By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister apologized Tuesday for comments he made almost a month earlier that angered Indigenous leaders and cost him a cabinet minister.
“I wish my words in speaking to Manitobans at this difficult time had been said differently so they could have been understood better,” Pallister said in a press release.
“My words did not adequately convey all that I meant, which I sincerely regret.”
Pallister said he takes responsibility for having caused the misunderstanding July 7, when he denounced people who had toppled two statues on the legislature grounds in a protest over the deaths of Indigenous children at residential schools.
Pallister said people who came to Canada — before and after it was a country — did not come to destroy but to build communities, businesses and churches.
Indigenous leaders have said the premier downplayed the harmful effects of colonialism, and Pallister initially stood by his comments. He said he meant to convey that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people often worked together to build Canada.
His Indigenous relations minister, Eileen Clarke, resigned from cabinet. Her replacement, Alan Lagimodiere, stirred up more controversy by defending some of the intentions behind residential schools. He later apologized.
Two Indigenous men, saying the government was rewriting history, resigned from their government appointments to economic development boards.
Some members of the Progressive Conservative caucus have also distanced themselves from Pallister’s remarks, and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman last week called on the premier to say he is sorry.
On Tuesday, Pallister spoke to the media for the first time in almost three weeks and took back his remarks.
“I feel awful about the reaction and the misunderstanding I created with my comments,” he said during a news conference about COVID-19 restrictions.
Pallister also said his words were misrepresented as support for colonialism or residential schools.
“I should have been clearer in my comments but my heart was in the right place.”
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said Pallister did not offer a full retraction.
“If you have to qualify an apology, then it’s not an apology,” said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.
“And really, there’s no excuse. The premier has been involved in public office for decades. There’s an expectation that you speak well and you’re mindful of the words you use.”
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the premier’s apology was insincere.
“He’s not really clearly saying that he did anything wrong. He’s just sorry for the fact it was misunderstood.”
Pallister’s Tories have dropped sharply in recent opinion polls and he is now facing signs of dissent from some of his caucus members. Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard posted on social media last month that she could not support words that hurt people affected by trauma.
Pallister has hinted he may retire from politics before the next election in 2023. When asked by a reporter Tuesday whether he plans to leave office in the coming months, he did not directly answer.
“You’ll be among the first to know if that’s the decision.”