Apologizing for off-colour comments he made in a 17-year-old video released last week, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he's going to try to be a better person from now on.
Wall is depicted on the tape speaking in an Eastern European accent and insulting then-NDP leader Roy Romanow, who is of Ukrainian descent.The tape of a 1991 Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative social gathering also contained homophobic slurs from Tom Lukiwski, who is now a Conservative member of Parliament representing Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre.
Both Wall and Lukiwski made public apologies last week, but Monday was Wall's first opportunity to speak in the legislative assembly about the video, which showed him saying, "Roy Romanow got his head up his ass."
In an 11-minute speech, Wall admitted he said "unacceptable things" while speaking "in a bad Ukrainian accent."
On the weekend, Wall spoke to Romanow and directly apologized, he said. He also apologized to the Canadian Ukrainian Congress. Wall's communications director, Kathy Young, has also apologized to labour groups and leaders for her comments, Wall said. In the tape, Young joked about sending bombs to labour leaders.
Wall went on to tell his fellow MLAs he's done a lot of soul-searching since the video was released. The public expects its leaders to show honesty and integrity and the premier must lead by example, he said.
"I'm going to work very hard to not let them down, to not let my family down," he said.
He said he's made a personal pledge to never again make intolerant jokes and, in future, to speak out when others in his presence make such remarks.
"We're going to do this," he said.
Wall said he doesn't want Saskatchewan to turn into a humourless, colourless place where an "Orwellian political correctness" prevails. There's still a place for good-natured humour and the ability to laugh at ourselves, he said, adding that he sometimes jokes about his own Mennonite heritage.
"Sometimes, it's hard to know where to draw the line," he said.
"If you're not prepared to see your remarks on the 6 o'clock news, they're probably wrong. If you're not prepared to say it to the individual, to their face, they shouldn't be said."
Wall said on that basis, his comments about Romanow 17 years ago were clearly wrong.
In 1991, Wall was a 25-year-old ministerial aide in the PC government of Premier Grant Devine who was running for a seat in the legislature.
A group of PC MLAs later joined up with some Liberal MLAs to form the Saskatchewan Party. The New Democrats found the old video in the old Opposition office after the change in government last November.
Wall said the events of the past few days can be a reminder that the reason many people come to Canada and Saskatchewan from other countries is that they are fleeing intolerance and see our society as a beacon.
"No, it's not perfect here," Wall said. "But you know what? It's pretty good."
Wall told the legislature he has changed his mind and has decided not to sue a news agency after all.
Drops complaint against CP
On the weekend, The Canadian Press news co-operative said Wall had threatened legal action against it because of a headline over a story that stated "Tape with Sask premier and Tory MP has racist, sexist, homophobic comments: NDP".
On Monday, Wall said he has instructed his lawyers not to proceed. He said last week he wasn't in the room when Lukiwski referred to homosexuals as "faggots with dirt on their fingernails that transmit diseases."
Meanwhile, in the House of Commons on Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he accepted Lukiwski's apologies for "completely unacceptable" comments and indicated Lukiwski wouldn't be disciplined.