Neil Matheson said he will not let deputy premier Rich Coleman off the hook.
“He should be embarrassed,” he said. “Everybody in the whole caucus should be embarrassed by what he said.”
Matheson is upset over comments Coleman made in a debate last Thursday following his recent trip to Latin America.
“We have to remember that a person on social assistance — a single person on social assistance in British Columbia — gets double the annual income of a person in the Third World. And we should remember that — not because we say it’s right but we should remember actually how good this country is.”
“You don’t like this country? I don’t know what your problem is. We can always do better. But we should think about doing better in the construct…. I want to tell you why I brought that up, because you know what? That annual monthly income is about the equivalent of what a number of our First Nations in British Columbia get every single month from the federal government. That’s wrong … it’s wrong in Nicaragua, and it’s wrong in Canada.
“And if you don’t like that comment, too bad.”
NDP MLA Lana Popham called the comments “astoundingly unprofessional.”
NDP housing critic David Eby was also critical.
“He has no idea what it’s like to be physically disabled — none,” Matheson said. “No idea, whatsoever.”
Matheson has had to rely on social assistance for help. He says he has also been fighting with the government because it clawed back benefits paid to him following his wife’s death.
Coleman’s comments prompted him to write a blog post calling for more sensitivity.
“That’s why I wrote the letter because it’s clear that they don’t care and I just want them to care,” Matheson said.
Coleman said his comments were taken out of context.
“The parallel wasn’t about welfare or social assistance, it was about how poorly Canada and the really Third World conditions treat our First Nations on reserve and we’ve got to get better at it and there’s an opportunity for success with LNG to change thousands of lives,” he said.
Michelle Mungall, the NDP’s critic for social development, said Coleman’s comments are not being misinterpreted.
“There’s no doubt about it that Minister Coleman needs to apologize to people with disabilities and people living on income assistance here in British Columbia,” she said.
Matheson said an apology from the minister is in order, but he isn’t convinced he’ll get one.
“You have to be accountable for the things you say. It’s just not right.”
– With files from Nadia Stewart