Manitoba’s minister responsible for Indigenous relations has resigned from cabinet.
Eileen Clarke, who has held the post since the Tories were elected in 2016, was not immediately available for comment.
Her constituency office confirmed her resignation from cabinet and added that Clarke will stay on as a member of the legislature.
Clarke’s constituency office told Global News she will not be speaking on the issue out of respect for the current Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief election taking place Wednesday.
The move comes after Premier Brian Pallister made comments last week in response to the toppling of two statues of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria on the grounds of the legislature.
Pallister said people who came to Canada did not come to destroy things, but to build up communities.
“The people who came here to this country, before it was a country and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came here to build. They came to build better,” he said.
“We need to respect our heritage just as we need to respect one another…. Not to find fault, not to tear down, not to highlight every failure, but rather to realize that we’re a complex country as we are made up of complex people,” Pallister said at a July 7 news conference, where he also added the statues would be restored.
His comments were widely condemned by Indigenous leaders, who said the premier was minimizing and romanticizing the effects of colonialism.
The CBC reported that Clarke said Pallister’s comments were a factor in her decision, although she did not specify which comments.
“When a Minister resigns for this reason, because she’s in a clear conflict with the premier and she feels like she can’t do her job in light of statements that the premier has made, that’s a very big deal,” Political Scientist Royce Koop said.
Koop said if Clarke felt like the premier’s comments made it difficult or nearly impossible to do her job, it was the right and reasonable move to resign.
“Sometimes Ministers will go out of their way to to work through situations like this and the fact that she felt she couldn’t that, that it was not a situation she could work through, she simply could not do her job in light of the premier’s comments, is quite striking,” he said.
Pallister refused to discuss the reasons for Clarke stepping down when asked at an unrelated press conference later in the day Wednesday.
“All I can tell you is that cabinet ministers, like all of us, have the opportunity to decide on their own future, and I respect those decisions, and I respect Eileen’s decision,” Pallister said.
“I’m tremendously appreciative of her work and I’ll never stop loving Eileen Clarke.”
MLA Shannon Martin tweeted his support for Clarke but told 680 CJOB he did not want to comment further.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) interim Grand Chief Leroy Constant called Clarke’s decision “shocking”.
“I don’t even know what to say. She was really good to the Indigenous people and it’s a great loss to the Indigenous community in all sectors,” said Constant.
“She was very involved in the community and (we’re) definitely going to miss her in that position.
“She actually reached out to us on a regular basis as leaders and just she was connected. We were able to personally call her and address certain issues with her… she was available at any time.”
Constant said Clarke was especially involved with northern communities, and he hopes her replacement will be someone with equally willing to collaborate with Indigenous leaders.
Treaty One Nation Chief Dennis Meeches echoed Constant’s comments.
“It is very unfortunate that the approach and comments of the Premier towards First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples has made Ms. Clarke’s job intolerable, but it is indicative of the poor relationship that the Premier has with the original and Treaty peoples of Manitoba.”
“We wish Eileen Clarke continued success as MLA for the constituency of Agassiz.”
Political scientist Shannon Sampert told Global News the “facade is starting to crack” for Pallister with this latest announcement.
“It’s always really interesting when someone steps down from a government that’s in power,” said Sampert.
“It certainly suggests that there are more to come because it suggests that, first of all, Eileen Clarke feels that she can no longer do her job under this premier.
“There’s a sense that he’s no longer capable of holding his cabinet together. And the question is, who’s coming next?”
Sampert said the premier’s other ministers may be concerned about re-election, due to the party’s low popularity in opinion polls.
“It’s so difficult for so many of the ministers to do their work when the premier consistently undermines them with his lack of emotional intelligence.
“It might be time for this premier to step aside and allow the party to at least try to regain some popularity, to at least cling to some popularity in the next time for the next election.”
In a statement Wednesday, Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont praised Clarke’s dedication to fostering an open dialogue between the province and Indigenous communities, and put the blame on Pallister’s recent statements for Clarke stepping down.
“Pallister has always made her job difficult, but the Premier’s latest fact-free historical revisionism made her job as Minister of Indigenous and Northern Relations impossible.
“Eileen Clarke has done the right thing, for Indigenous people, and for Manitobans. She deserves credit for that.”
Pallister is expected to name Clarke’s replacement and reveal other revisions to his cabinet on Thursday. A media notice said there would be changes — plural — to the inner circle.
–With files from the Canadian Press