Two Indigenous men have left their roles 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 attracted so much 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,” Darrell 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 offers support to businesses and communities in southern Manitoba.
Wilson was board chair of a similar agency in the north, the Communities Economic Development Fund.
He formerly served as a deputy minister in two departments under the Progressive Conservative government and was the treaty commissioner for Manitoba, chairing a body established by the federal government and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
A spokesperson for the premier’s office could not immediately contacted for comment on Sunday.
The resignations arrive about a 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 nation, came not to destroy anything except to build communities, businesses and churches.
His comments were criticized by Indigenous leaders as reducing 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 usually worked together to build Canada.
Two days later, Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke resigned her position. She said many Manitobans are disappointed with their representatives, and added that she and other cabinet ministers had not been listened to.
Resignations come after a tumultuous week
Pallister appointed a replacement for Clarke last Thursday – Alan Lagimodiere, who created additional controversy within an hour of being sworn in. Lagimodiere defended some of the intentions behind residential schools and said they were initially aimed at teaching skills to Indigenous children.
He took back his comments later that day and, a day later, issued an apology and asked for forgiveness.
Lagimodiere’s initial remarks were the “final straw”, said Brown, who is asking 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 usually centralized communication strategy.
Three elected Tories posted on social media to make clear their opposition to residential learning institutions.
“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 disturbed by “recent events and comments” though 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 several cases, lives.
The next Manitoba election is planned for Oct. 2023 through Pallister has hinted he could leave before then.
He was asked on multiple occasions during a year-end interview with The Canadian Press last December whether he was committed to serving out his full term. Pallister responded each time by saying he would stay on to see the pandemic through.