Former Manitoba Indigenous relations minister gets key government appointment, rejects it

Manitoba's former Indigenous Relations Minister, Eileen Clarke, has turned down an appointment to the provincial Treasury Board.
Manitoba's former Indigenous Relations Minister, Eileen Clarke, has turned down an appointment to the provincial Treasury Board. Submitted/Progress Conservative Caucus

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was rejected again by one of his former cabinet ministers Wednesday in the latest sign of tumult within the Progressive Conservative government.

Pallister had appointed Eileen Clarke, who resigned from cabinet earlier this month in part over Pallister’s remarks on Canadian history, to the provincial Treasury Board, which oversees government spending.

The appointment was made official and posted online earlier this week, only to have Clarke turn it down Wednesday.

“Ms. Clarke had not been made aware of any appointment to government Treasury Board, but on (Wednesday) did receive an email from the secretary of the Treasury Board congratulating her on the recent appointment and a request to meet,” read a prepared statement from Clarke’s constituency office.

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“Eileen has contacted the premier’s office and will not be accepting the Treasury Board appointment.”

Clarke declined interview requests. In a statement sent to Global News later in the day Wednesday, the premier’s office called Clarke’s appointment an “administrative error.”

Click to play video: 'Reaction to former Indigenous Relations Minister resigning'
Reaction to former Indigenous Relations Minister resigning

“Due to an administrative error, an outdated draft group of Orders In Council regarding Cabinet committee memberships was inadvertently posted,” the statement from the premier’s office reads.

“This error was already in the process of being addressed yesterday. Ms. Clarke was informed of this. New Orders In Council are being posted today.”

The latest rejection came two weeks after Pallister stirred up controversy after two statues of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria on the legislature grounds were torn down during a protest over the deaths of Indigenous children at residential schools.

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Pallister denounced the vandalism and said people who came to Canada did not do so to destroy anything, but to build communities, churches and businesses.

First Nations leaders accused Pallister of downplaying the harmful effects of colonialism.

Clarke resigned her cabinet post as minister of Indigenous and northern relations two days later, and said she would retain her legislature seat.

It’s not unusual for backbenchers to be named to Treasury Board, but one political analyst said it was strange that Pallister appears not to have consulted Clarke before appointing her.

“She would have told him ‘don’t do that, premier, I’ll have to reject your offer’, so he set himself up for a rejection and did himself no good,” Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said Wednesday.

Pressure mounting for premier: Thomas

Pallister has hinted that he may not serve out his full term and leave well before the next election slated for October 2023. In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press last December, Pallister would only commit to staying on to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The pressure to leave soon, or at least set a departure date in the near future, is building, Thomas said. He pointed to recent opinion polls that suggest Tory support has fallen well back of that for the opposition New Democrats. He also pointed to growing signs of dissent.

“It’s slow and it’s not a frontal attack on his leadership, but it is building,” Thomas said.

Two Indigenous men who had been appointed by the Pallister government to economic development boards quit last week, saying they could not support the government’s take on Canadian history.

Click to play video: 'Pallister says he ‘stands by’ comments following Eileen Clarke resignation'
Pallister says he ‘stands by’ comments following Eileen Clarke resignation

Clarke’s replacement in Indigenous relations, Alan Lagimodiere, stirred up more controversy within an hour of being appointed to cabinet last week by saying some of the intentions behind residential schools were good.

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Lagimodiere later apologized, but some members of the Tory caucus went further, going outside the normally centralized government communications structure and posting messages on social media to thoroughly condemn residential schools.

Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard posted on Twitter that she could not “stand behind words that add hurt to traumatized people.”

Pallister has also seen the departure of some staff recently. His director of media relations and issues management, Blake Robert, served notice this week that he is leaving for a new job at the STARS air ambulance service.

The Opposition New Democrats said the Tory infighting was distracting from other issues such as the drought facing agricultural producers and wildfires forcing evacuations from communities in the north.

“The fact that they can’t handle their internal business successfully certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

–With files from Brittany Greenslade

Click to play video: 'Dr. Alan Lagimodiere and Wab Kinew on Residential Schools'
Dr. Alan Lagimodiere and Wab Kinew on Residential Schools

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