By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Two Indigenous men have quit their positions on Manitoba economic development boards in the wake of controversial remarks by Premier Brian Pallister and a cabinet minister.
The resignations of Jamie Wilson and Darrell Brown form the latest chapter in the growing fallout from Pallister’s comments on Canadian history, which have drawn widespread criticism.
“”As a former treaty commissioner for Manitoba and member of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, I cannot support this government’s rewriting of Canadian history,” Wilson wrote in a text message Sunday.
“It was clear to me that I have to get away from any connection to this (Progressive Conservative) party,” Darrel Brown said in an interview.
Until last week, Brown served on the government-appointed board of directors of the Rural Manitoba Economic Development Corporation, which provides support to businesses and communities in southern Manitoba.
Wilson was board chair of a similar agency in the north, the Communities Economic Development Fund.
Wilson previously served as a deputy minister in two departments under the Progressive Conservative government and was the treaty commissioner for Manitoba, heading up a body set up by the federal government and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
A spokesperson for the premier’s office could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.
The resignations came roughly one week after Pallister criticized protesters who had toppled statues of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria on the legislature grounds. Pallister said people who came to Canada, both before and after it was a country, came not to destroy anything but to build communities, churches and businesses.
His comments were criticized by Indigenous leaders as minimizing the harmful effects of colonialism. Pallister defended his comments, saying he never mentioned colonialism and instead meant to get across the idea that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people often worked together to build Canada.
Two days later, Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke quit her cabinet post. She said many Manitobans are disappointed with their representatives, and added that she and other cabinet ministers had not been listened to.
Pallister appointed a replacement for Clarke last Thursday — Alan Lagimodiere, who created more controversy within an hour of being sworn in. Lagimodiere defended some of the intentions behind residential schools and said they were originally aimed at teaching skills to Indigenous children.
He took back his remarks later that day and, one day later, issued a full apology and asked for forgiveness.
Lagimodiere’s initial remarks were the “final straw,” said Brown, who is calling for a change at the top of the Progressive Conservatives.
“They need new leadership and a better understanding of … Indigenous issues,” Brown said.
Pallister’s caucus members have not criticized him, but there have been signs that some are now willing to break away from the government’s normally centralized communication strategy.
Three elected Tories posted statements on social media last week to make clear their opposition to residential schools.
“I will never stand behind words that add hurt to traumatized people,” Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard posted on Twitter.
“Residential schools were designed to erase a culture.”
Families Minister Rochelle Squires said she was troubled by “recent events and comments” although she refused to elaborate.
Tory backbencher Shannon Martin said he wanted to clear up any “confusion” by saying residential schools were designed to erase Indigenous cultures and, in too many instances, lives.
The next Manitoba election is slated for October 2023 although Pallister has hinted he may leave well before then.
He was asked repeatedly, during a year-end interview with The Canadian Press last December whether he was committed to serving out his full term. He replied each time by saying he would stay on to see the COVID-19 pandemic through.