Winnipeg mayor says premier should apologize for July 7 comments about Canada’s colonial past

Winnipeg’s mayor says Manitoba’s premier should apologize for claiming colonists intended Indigenous people no harm.

Mayor Brian Bowman tweeted Friday morning that Premier Brian Pallister should make amends for comments he made on July 7, when he issued a plea for calm following the toppling of statues on the Manitoba Legislature grounds.

“The people who came here to this country before it was a country, and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything,” Pallister said at the time. “They came here to build.”

The comments were described as inaccurate by historians, who noted Canada’s residential school system was designed with the stated purpose of erasing Indigenous culture.

Some Indigenous leaders called on Pallister to resign in the wake of his comments. Bowman waited 23 days to suggest the premier apologize.

“Any characterization of the Indian Residential Schools system that denies or marginalizes its intended purpose and impact is historically inaccurate and counterproductive to our journey of reconciliation,” the mayor tweeted Friday morning.

Less than two hours later, Bowman stood alongside provincial cabinet members Reg Helwer and Scott Fielding at a joint recreation funding announcement at the St. James Civic Centre in Winnipeg.

The mayor said he was angered by Pallister’s comments and waited for weeks for the premier to apologize, but since that hasn’t happened, he had to speak up.

“I’ve had interactions with several First Nations governments and leaders. It’s dominated some of the conversations that I’ve had,” said Bowman, describing Pallister’s comments as a denial of genocide.

“If if his caucus won’t publicly insist that he apologize, then I think it falls on community leaders like myself and others to at least acknowledge publicly what a lot of people are speaking about privately right now, about those and other comments made by others in our community.” 

WATCH | Winnipeg mayor calls on premier to apologize for residential school comments:

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says he was ‘quite angered’ by Premier Brian Pallister’s comments to help Manitobans move forward. 3:58

Fielding and Helwer were both asked whether Pallister should apologize.

“I really want to work on reconciliation and work with Indigenous communities, so that’s what I’m committed to doing. You know, the mayor will make his comments [and] he can respond to his comments,” Fielding said.

Helwer said as the minister responsible for public servants, he is working to ensure provincial employees are educated about residential schools and work toward reconciliation.

Provincial cabinet ministers Reg Helwer and Scott Fielding spoke at the same event as Mayor Brian Bowman this morning. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

The premier’s office would not address the question of whether an apology is forthcoming for the July 7 comments.

“Premier and cabinet are focused on real reconciliation efforts and advancing equal opportunity for all,” the government communications office said in a statement.

Bowman said an apology would help even if it appeared it was issued under duress. The mayor noted Alan Lagimodiere, Manitoba’s minister responsible for reconciliation, apologized for his own comments about reconciliation.

“I’m finding in my discussions with Indigenous governments and peoples, those comments are aggravating our efforts, and so that’s why I just think it would it would help,” the mayor said. “It would be a start.”

Bowman said those discussions prompted him to speak out shortly before the joint funding announcement.

While the mayor was speaking, a senior who attended the event stormed out after complaining it had been hijacked by the political exchange between the two levels of government.

There was also a terse exchange between Fielding and Bowman after the event.

The premier’s office declined to comment on the timing of the mayor’s remarks.

“Only the mayor can comment on what his personal motivations are for himself,” the government communications office said in the statement.

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