Conservative MP apologizes for 'hurtful' comments on aboriginal people

A Conservative MP who on Wednesday told an Ottawa radio station that aboriginal people need a stronger work ethic, not more compensation dollars, has apologized for his comments.

A Conservative MP who on Wednesday told an Ottawa radio station that former residential school students need a stronger work ethic, not more compensation dollars, has apologized for his comments.

Pierre Poilievre apologized Thursday for questioning the value of residential school compensation. ((CBC))

Pierre Poilievre stood in the House of Commons Thursday to say he was sorry for his remarks, which were made just hours before Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a public, formal apology to former students of the native residential school program.

"Yesterday on a day when the House and all Canadians were celebrating a new beginning, I made remarks that were hurtful and wrong," Poilievre said.

"I accept responsibility for them and I apologize."

Poilievre had come under heavy criticism for telling CFRA News Talk Radio that he wasn't sure Canada was "getting value for all of this money" being spent to compensate former students of federally financed residential schools.

"My view is that we need to engender the values of hard work and independence and self-reliance. That's the solution in the long run — more money will not solve it," Poilievre said.

The MP for Nepean-Carleton also suggested that aboriginal chiefs have too much power.

"That gets to the heart of the problem on these reserves where there is too much power concentrated in the hands of the leadership, and it makes you wonder where all of this money is going."

The opposition called on Harper to dismiss the parliamentary secretary to the Treasury Board president, saying the comments were shocking and offensive on a historic day meant to engender a more respectful relationship between aboriginal Canadians and the government.

"Mr. Speaker, I am saddened and hurt by the attitude expressed by this official spokesperson for the government," said Liberal MP for Labrador Todd Russell.

"Referring to the residential school settlement, he said, 'Some of us are starting to ask are we really getting value for this money.' But how do you place a value on a stolen child?"

Harper rejected the call to remove Poilievre, but admitted his remarks were wrong.

"As all members of the House know, the parliamentary secretary has apologized for remarks that were wrong. I know that he has also forthwith contacted national aboriginal associations to indicate that," Harper said.

"I know that yesterday we had a historic event, something that aboriginal people in this country have been waiting a very long time for. I know that all parties in this House were supportive of that spirit of apology, and I also know the honourable member in question was very supportive of those actions of the government."

Poilievre also issued a statement on Wednesday night saying he agreed with the prime minister when he said during Wednesday's apology that the treatment of children in Indian residential schools was a sad chapter in Canadian history, and had caused great harm.

With files from the Canadian Press