Here's a look at Brian Pallister's full comments on Canada Day statue toppling — and what he's said since
Manitoba premier came under fire for recent comments, which led to Indigenous relations minister resigning
It started when Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister spoke publicly for the first time about the toppling of a pair of statues on the province's legislative grounds on Canada Day.
The figures of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth were pulled down by a small group of people involved in a walk to remember Indigenous children who died at residential schools.
"The people who came here to this country before it was a country, and since, didn't come here to destroy anything," Pallister said on July 7, admonishing those involved in bringing down the statues. "They came here to build."
Those remarks were quickly characterized by scholars as ahistorical and insensitive. Two days later, Manitoba's Indigenous relations minister, Eileen Clarke, resigned from her cabinet position.
A new cabinet member was then appointed to the now-renamed Indigenous reconciliation portfolio — a development that brought its own controversy, when MLA Alan Lagimodiere said the people who ran residential schools "thought they were doing the right thing."
In the days since Pallister's initial remarks, the premier has stood by his comments. He asked people to read what he said "and ask yourself if the remarks are justified."
Here's a rundown of exactly what he said at that first news conference and what comments he's made since. While some reporters' questions have been condensed for clarity, the premier's words are presented in full.
On statues being toppled
On July 7, Pallister gave an update on COVID-19 vaccines in Manitoba. He opened with these comments about statues being toppled on the legislative grounds on July 1:
I want to make some comments in respect to the events of Canada Day.
We all understand, and we should understand, that tearing down is a lot simpler than building up. But building up is what we have to dedicate ourselves to, and I believe that Canada has been, and will always be, I hope, a nation that is an example to those around the world of our dedication to building — to building something better.
We are not a perfect country, but we're a lot closer than a lot of other countries to being perfect.
And we need to dedicate ourselves to that construction project that is Canada. I would say to those who are choosing to tear down right now rather than to build up that that is the wrong choice. And I would say to them, let us build together. That is the right choice.
WATCH | An excerpt from Pallister's remarks on July 7:
Throughout our country's history, well before we were acknowledged as a country, we were a home of hope to people from around the world who came from long distances away to pursue a better life for themselves, for their families.
And we continue to be that beacon of light for people from around the world. We must be that beacon of light for our Indigenous people in this country, as well. For too long, that has not been the case.
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, to build, they did. And they built farms, and they built businesses, and they built communities and churches too. And they built these things for themselves and for one and another, and they built them with dedication and with pride.
And so, we must dedicate ourselves to building, as well, and yet again, because what these people have done, our ancestors, is they've given us a heritage, and heritage is a complicated thing.
There are good and bad aspects to Canada's heritage, as there are to any country's heritage. We've had ups and downs in our country, we've had good times and we've had bad moments, and Canada Day was one of those bad moments.
But 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. And so, our failures should not be celebrated, but they should not be repeated either.
There were failures of character on display the other day that need not be repeated and that are not helpful, that in fact are most unhelpful to the struggle for real building and real reconciliation that must be pursued.
Truth is what happened in the past, and the truth is coming out on important issues, but reconciliation is what we can make happen in the future, just as we've been dedicated as a government to working on reconciliation projects since we came to government.
Canada is a land of hope. Manitoba is the special heart of Canada. And we continue to draw people here, to this centre of our beautiful country, because we are focused on building that hope.
We can do better here. You can do better here. You just have to have the will. Here in Canada and here in Manitoba, we have more tools with which to build than most people on this planet are given, tools like public education and available free health care.
And these tools and others are important, but they require the will of people to go beyond the basic tools they are given and do something with them. It takes a negative will to tear down. It takes a positive will to build up, and we need to focus on building up. We need to equip all our citizens with more skills, but they need to dedicate themselves, as well, to building those skills within themselves. We need to help people, but people have to have the will, also, to use the tools that they are given.
And in this country, we provide through the contributions of our fellow citizens, taxpayers, our friends, our neighbours, the ones who work hard to pay their taxes; we are given the opportunity that so many people around the planet do not have to develop skills and to earn an income and to become self-sufficient people and to have the opportunity to build and grow, and so many people do that.
So many immigrants to Canada, so many people achieve tremendous success. Our country is known as a country that allows people to move from challenging economic circumstances and find success, better than most other countries in the world.
Some articles I've read say we're three times as likely to be able, as citizens of Canada, to move from a lower socio-economic category to a middle-income or higher-income category than citizens of the United States are, just an hour to the south.
These are real opportunities. They are opportunities we need to build on together. We pay for health care, we pay for education, we pay for each other because we want this to be the home of hope and we want equality of opportunity for everyone. And if that's what you want, if you want equality of opportunity, then you have a staunch ally in me and in our government. And I believe in those Canadians.
Canada is not a perfect country. There is no perfect country. But I would rather be a Canadian than anything else.- Premier Brian Pallister, July 7
But you have to decide what you want and then you can start to build. Never before in our lifetime have we recognized the value of our freedoms more than we do now in this age of COVID, because they've been restricted, and those freedoms include the freedom to protest.
But the most effective protests are not violent ones, they are ones that demonstrate your willingness to dedicate yourself to respect and to peace. The freedoms we used to take for granted, our freedoms of movement, of association, of religion of — in fact, even to communicate with one another effectively have been impeded, to say the least, by this pandemic.
But they do highlight for me the vital importance not only of getting them back, but of using those freedoms to advantage, to build something better, not just for us as individuals, but for us as citizens, for us as friends, as relatives.
That's what we've been dedicated to doing as a government to the best of our ability, from the very beginning. To fix our finances, to make us stronger, to repair our services, to make them better and more accessible, and to help rebuild our economy. And we needed to do that because we had fallen far behind other provinces in many respects.
Now it's time to take that same formula, in the face of these challenges I'm referring to and in the face of the challenges of COVID, and build, and to build better than before, using all the skills we have together, dedicated to that task. We have to fix our problems together. We have to repair our relationships together. We have to find new opportunities together.
I have never been more proud of Canada for being the home of hope to people than I am today.
WATCH | Here's the full July 7 news conference where Pallister made the comments:
Because I believe what we are coming through, in the dialogue about residential schools, these discoveries — not new discoveries, but new to many Canadians, most certainly — has created an awareness and I think a greater willingness to pursue equality of opportunity for all Canadians than has existed before, and in the springboard that we hope is coming post-pandemic, greater opportunities for things like skills development and for jobs and careers for all Canadians.
These opportunities are real and they're exciting and I have never been more dedicated, and my government has never been more dedicated, to making sure that we continue to be that home of hope for all Canadians — and for those who choose to come here, new immigrants to our country as we move forward, never more dedicated to advancing the equality of opportunity for all of us.
Canada is not a perfect country. There is no perfect country. But I would rather be a Canadian than anything else.
On minister's resignation, Canada Day comments
On July 14 — a full week after Pallister's initial comments about colonization — the premier gave an update alongside Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin about Manitoba's next step in its COVID-19 reopening plan.
After the update, Pallister was asked several questions about Eileen Clarke's resignation as the minister of Indigenous and northern relations — a story that broke just a few hours earlier. Here are some of the questions he was asked — and how he answered:
Reporter: The issue of unmarked graves involving residential school students has triggered a reckoning across this country. In your view, what does the discovery of these graves say about our country and did you and Minister Clarke see eye-to-eye on that issue?
Pallister: Absolutely. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for us, as Canadians, to better understand our history and better understand the mistakes of the past so that they aren't repeated. And I think there's a real willingness on the part of Canadians to move forward, to build and work together for those goals of reconciliation that are not exclusive to but part of the Truth and Reconciliation [Commission] report itself.
I was certainly involved in working on reconciliation efforts with Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups for many years before the TRC report. But I know that Manitobans and Canadians want us to see progress on these issues. We've made some progress, we're excited to make more. We'll have more to say on this in the coming days.
Reporter: On that same topic about your Indigenous and northern affairs minister who has resigned, when did you find out and do you take any responsibility for your role in it being because of your comments last week?
Pallister: Well, I'll stand by my comments last week, Joe, but I have nothing but respect and love and admiration for my friend Eileen Clarke. I've known her since I was 21 years old. So that's not going to change.
You know, that's a tough, tough portfolio and Eileen's done a tremendous job in it. We need to continue with the work that she's helped us set the stage for doing more with. And so I'm tremendously appreciative of her work. And I'll never stop loving Eileen Clarke.
When we work together productively, and that's what we're after, then we can address the real issues of reconciliation that Indigenous people want. - Premier Brian Pallister, July 14
Reporter: Mr. Premier, what do you think Eileen Clarke's resignation and the support for her resignation from one of your backbenchers says about the comments you made about colonialism and reconciliation?
Pallister: Well, as I said, I'll stand by my comments, I continue to advocate that we build and not destroy, and I'll continue to say that we can work together and that when we do we will accomplish great things.
Look, we work together here in Manitoba with Indigenous organizations on ending the dangerous practice of night hunting. We'll work together to get people back to their communities in the Interlake — some of them have been out of their homes for over half a decade — work together to build Freedom Road. We're working.
When we work together productively, and that's what we're after, then we can address the real issues of reconciliation that Indigenous people want. They want equality of opportunity in our province, in our country, in our world, and that's exactly what our government is focused on making sure we work together with Indigenous groups on. We're going to continue to do that.
Reporter: How do you expect Manitobans, and particularly Indigenous people in Manitoba, to take your commitment to reconciliation seriously — especially after last week's comments and ones before that?
Pallister: Well, I'd like you to read last week's comments with an open mind and ask yourself — I didn't pay tribute to the building of this country by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, because I did. And I'd like you to look at it with an objective heart and mind.
And then you could look at my record and the record of my government in terms of working hard on reconciliation and making real progress on it. That's the key. We need results.
We need to give equality of opportunity to Indigenous Manitobans and all Manitobans. But 700,000 acres of land has been transferred under my premiership and under my government to Indigenous communities.
It was virtually none transferred in the number of years before we came to government. That's just an example of our willingness to work with Indigenous leadership and communities towards real progress and real reconciliation, and we're going to continue to do that.
Reporter: So what do you say then to Indigenous people that don't appear to favour your record when it comes to —
Pallister: Well, I would say that everybody's entitled to their opinion. I'm giving you facts.
You know, I've worked on Indigenous reconciliation issues for over two decades, advocating for more investment in First Nations communities, for cleaner water, for housing, long before there was a TRC report. I've spent a half a decade working with Indigenous women's groups on advocating for equal property rights for Indigenous women.
What I would say to those folks is take a look at my record and be willing to come forward and build together, because our government most certainly is, my ministers are, I am, and we're excited about it, in fact.
WATCH | Here's a clip from Pallister's comments on Eileen Clarke's resignation:
Reporter: You spoke very highly of Clarke and talked about how much respect you have for her. So she's resigned and a number of chiefs have come out in support of her resignation. I'm wondering, does that not give you pause to maybe rethink some of your statements or approach to Indigenous issues right now?
Pallister: I'm not sure I understand your preamble entirely. You've talked about people supporting her resignation, and I'm not sure what to take of that. I think most people who've worked with Eileen would be disappointed with her resignation, I would be one of those. That being said, I accept it and we move on.
And I know Eileen will continue to be an incredible contributor to our team in government — she always has been. When we were in opposition for a number of years, since we've been in government, she has served tremendously well in cabinet. And I know that she'll be assisting her replacement, as well, to get up on all the files and to do the best possible work that we can do on reconciliation. We'll continue to do that.
I've been around reconciliation efforts for decades now, and I can tell you that they're always fraught with challenges and difficulties. But the reality is there are some of us who are dedicated to building and will continue to be and we will have to overcome the resistance of others. That's the way it is.
I'm going to continue, with our government, to do everything we can to improve the circumstances and lives of Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous Manitobans in particular. We have made amazing improvements. We need to do more.
And I think that the discovery of these graves — for some people a first-time thing — was certainly well referenced in Murray Sinclair's work. So it wasn't a surprise, I don't think, to many Indigenous Canadians. But it is a surprise and a shocker to many non-Indigenous Canadians.
It is an opportunity for us to, again, build even greater support for reconciliation efforts, such as acting on the missing and murdered Indigenous women's work, which we have begun and and have invested in, such as acting on mental health challenges, on addictions issues, on the justice file.
We've invested significant additional money in First Nations policing as well, because security matters, and in many other initiatives. So Manitoba has focused on reconciliation and will continue to, with this government.
And Eileen Clarke will continue with her work, in the past — to have been a major contributor in the past, but also to be contributing in the future to the work we do as a government and as a team as we move forward on these many files.
Premier's latest comments
On July 15, Pallister took questions from reporters at the legislative building after he appointed two new ministers to his cabinet.
That included Alan Lagimodiere as Manitoba's new Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations minister, whose comments about residential schools later in the same media scrum made headlines.
Here are some of the questions Pallister was asked at the announcement of the new ministers — prior to Lagimodiere's comments — and how the premier answered:
Reporter: Indigenous leaders, business leaders and ordinary Manitobans have come out in support of Eileen Clarke's resignation and her comments about your cabinet and leadership not being transparent. What do you say to those Manitobans — not your own caucus, not people in this building — who support what Clarke said and did?
Pallister: Well, what I would say is read my comments from last week. This appears to be the firestorm you're referring to. So read my comments from last week. Read them thoughtfully.
I paid tribute to Canadians. I paid tribute to pre-Canada builders. I spoke about people who came here with hope, to build families and communities. I spoke with sincerity. I spoke genuinely. I did not reference colonialism. I did not reference Europeans in any way, shape or form.
I was talking about our First Peoples. I was talking about our Métis. I was talking about the people who came after them. And I was talking about building, and I'll keep talking about building because that's what we need to do. Manitoba will benefit from that more than any other province.
WATCH | Pallister's July 15 defence of his initial comments on Canada Day statue toppling:
And our record on outreach — which is included in your information you have today, a sample of some, of a dozen or so initiatives that we've undertaken as a government — can be stacked up, if you would like to, against the records on outreach and on reconciliation of any other jurisdiction and compared. So I would encourage you to do that.
Reporter: So —
Pallister: This doesn't happen without a team of people dedicated to the cause. And so we'll continue to focus on these issues. Truly, we have made some progress, but there is much more work to do and I am excited, and I know this team is excited to make that progress happen.
Reporter: So we misinterpreted. Everybody that's commenting on this misinterpreted your words? Is that right?
Pallister: What I'm asking you to do is to look at the interview, read the text and ask yourself if the remarks are justified or not. You're objective journalists, so please do that.
The reactions indicate, I think, probably, the emotion of the issue, most certainly, but also partly the challenge — that when anyone speaks on these issues, there is a danger that they'll be harshly criticized.- Premier Brian Pallister, July 15
Reporter: You said that people who came here had no intention of destroying. How do you square that with the historical record, that newcomers destroyed the lives of Indigenous peoples?
Pallister: Thousands of years ago, people came here as newcomers, thousands of years ago. We in Manitoba demonstrate partnerships —
Reporter: But how do you square that —
Pallister: My wife comes from — I'm trying to answer your question, Tom.
Reporter: I know, but you cut me off, I wasn't finished.
Pallister: Sorry, sorry. Sorry, keep going, please.
Reporter: May I ask the question?
Pallister: Of course, please continue.
Reporter: How do you square the historical record that shows that newcomers and their elected officials did destroy the lives of Indigenous people when they came here to build Canada? How do you square that with your comment last week, where you said, "People came here and they didn't destroy?" How do you square those two?
Pallister: I'm just making sure you're done your question, Tom.
Pallister: 'Kay. Read my comments. Indigenous people were the first Canadians — they were newcomers at that point in time. They forged a life by building. They worked diligently to do that for millennia. When subsequent immigrants came here, they couldn't have survived without the partnerships that were forged.
My wife's family are Icelandic. The Icelandic people couldn't have survived in the Interlake without the partnership of Indigenous people and their support. Icelanders knew how to fish, they didn't know how to fish through the ice, for example. That is just one example of hundreds of examples.
The Selkirk settlers couldn't have survived without the knowledge they obtained from Indigenous Canadians, not yet Canadians, but Manitobans, not yet Manitobans, but people who were Indigenous gave them shared knowledge.
And that shared knowledge is how we achieve reconciliation. It's how we made progress to date. It's how we're going to go forward. My comments were directed towards encouraging that building to happen.
I understand these are difficult and emotional issues and times we live in, but I think we have to seize the opportunity to move forward.- Premier Brian Pallister, July 15
That building that's been done for millennia by Indigenous Canadians continued on and continues today, and it must continue, from all of us working together.
So the reactions indicate, I think, probably, the emotion of the issue, most certainly, but also partly the challenge — that when anyone speaks on these issues, there is a danger that they'll be harshly criticized, and most certainly I recognize that. I've recognized that for a long time. I've been harshly criticized for pushing for Indigenous women's property rights 20 years ago.
I was working on reconciliation and — talk to fellow journalists or former journalists and ask them. Talk to Mia Rabson, talk to Mary Agnes Welch, ask them if I was pushing hard on Indigenous issues 20 years ago and they'll tell you, "absolutely he was." And I'm not going to stop.
So I understand these are difficult and emotional issues and times we live in, but I think we have to seize the opportunity to move forward. We have to seize the opportunity to reach out with an open hand, not with a clenched fist. We can work together and Manitoba has the chance to do that now.
Reporters: Mr. Premier —
Pallister: Read my comments with an open mind and ask yourself if it could not be interpreted to be more an invitation to build than a defence of anything colonial. I never — I have not used that phrase or word. I see it in a headline today in a major paper, it's not what I'm about, it's not what I've been about.
WATCH | Here's the full news conference where Pallister made his latest remarks:
Reporter: Now, Mr. Premier, you said yesterday that you've known Eileen Clarke since you were 21, you love and admire her, you recruited her. What's it say to voters, though, that she is saying you don't listen, change is necessary and people aren't happy with their representation? What does that say to voters?
Pallister: I can only say, consider the reality of the challenging times. Consider the reality of the stresses of the responsibilities Eileen has performed and faced, I think so well, for half a decade. Consider those realities. Put things in context.
I met Eileen when I started teaching in Gladstone. I know her well, I care deeply for her and for her family, and I have tremendous respect for her. You won't get a negative comment from me about Eileen Clarke, ever.
With files from Katie Swyers