Manitoba has a new minister responsible for Indigenous affairs following the resignation of the previous minister who stepped down after the premier’s comments on Canadian history.
Eileen Clarke resigned her post as minister for Indigenous relations last week.
At a Thursday morning swearing in ceremony, Dr. Alan Lagimodiere, the Tory MLA for Selkirk, was tapped to fill Clarke’s spot.
“I am pleased to accept these new and important responsibilities as part of our government,” Lagimodiere said, in a provincial release.
“I look forward to building even stronger relationships with First Nations, Métis, Inuit and northern Manitoba communities as we work toward the shared goals of reconciliation and opportunity for all.”
Lagimodiere’s first few hours in the job likely didn’t go as he’d hoped.
During a press conference question-and-answer period shortly after the swearing-in ceremony, NDP Leader Wab Kinew confronted the new minister over comments he’d just made to reporters about residential schools.
Lagimodiere had said he believed children were sent to residential schools to learn new skills.
“They thought they were doing the right thing,” Lagimodiere said of the residential school system. “In retrospect, it’s easy to judge in the past, but at the time they really thought that they were doing the right thing.”
“From my knowledge of it, the residential school system was designed to take Indigenous children and give them the skills and abilities they would need to fit into society as it moved forward.”
At that point, Kinew stepped in and firmly challenged the new minister’s statements.
“I cannot accept you saying what you just said about residential schools. It was the express intent of residential schools to ‘kill the Indian in the child,’” he said.
“It is not cultural relativism, it is not revisionist history for us to say that that was wrong.”
The province’s release says Lagimodiere is Métis and was born in northern Manitoba. He was first elected in 2016 and has not been in cabinet until now.
His official title will be minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations.
In a tweet sent later from his personal Twitter account, Lagimodiere said he misspoke during the press conference.
“As an Indigenous Manitoba, I sincerely believe that residential schools were tragic and were designed to assimilate Indigenous children and eradicate Indigenous culture,” he said in the tweet.
“That was wrong then, and it is wrong now.”
The cabinet shuffle also included the addition of Jon Reyes, MLA for Waverley, as minister of economic development and jobs, and Lakeside MLA, Ralph Eichler as minister of agriculture and resource and development.
Eicher will replace Blaine Pedersen in the role.
The changes come a day after news broke about Clarke’s resignation from cabinet following comments by Pallister, who said people that came to Canada did so not to destroy anything, but to build communities, churches and businesses.
Indigenous leaders criticized the comments, saying they downplayed the effects of colonialism.
Clarke posted a message on her Facebook page and sent a statement to media about her resignation earlier in the day Thursday.
While she did not point a finger directly at the premier, she said she stepped down from her post because of “inappropriate words and actions.”
“It is not my intent to divide or be disrespectful, but I do feel transparency is required,” she posted on social media.
“Strong leadership is required to heal and bring our province and country together in harmony, it can not be done by one individual. Inappropriate words and actions can be very damaging.”
Pallister doubled down on his comments at a press conference Wednesday, but said he has known Clarke since he was 21 and respected her decision.
Clarke’s resignation from cabinet is the first open criticism of Pallister since the Progressive Conservatives were elected in 2016.
–With files from The Canadian Press and Elisha Dacey