City councillor initially opposes residential-school training for city staff, then apologizes
North Kildonan's Jeff Browaty says he supports education about reconciliation, but is concerned about the cost
Coun. Jeff Browaty has apologized for telling city council the City of Winnipeg should not proceed with plans to educate city staff about the legacy of residential schools.
As part of Winnipeg's efforts to implement the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the city has developed a half-day session that will allow city staff to learn about the schools as well as their long-lasting effects.
According to a report to council, the city has cultural teachers and elders ready to begin training "in 2017 and beyond, until all staff have participated."
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On the floor of council on Wednesday morning, Browaty (North Kildonan) said he opposes this plan even though he supports Winnipeg's efforts to promote reconciliation and Mayor Brian Bowman's response to the most-racist label applied to Winnipeg by Maclean's magazine.
Browaty said he does not like the idea of placing workers in classrooms when they could be cutting grass or filling potholes.
"Winnipeg already has an absolutely stunning Canadian Museum for Human Rights," he said. "[Paying] employees overtime to attend this type of training, taking them away from cutting grass and providing the services we count on, I don't think that that is our position."
Browaty said he supports raising the issue of residential schools, "but where it actually incurs expense, I have to draw the line."
Browaty made his comments shortly before council approved an administrative report that details what Winnipeg has done and has yet to do to implement Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations.
Without mentioning Browaty by name, Bowman said the comments demonstrate why education and training about residential schools are needed so badly.
"What are the costs of inaction to the community?" Bowman asked on the floor of council.
After the break, Browaty said he reconsidered, in part because of a public outcry.
"I'm going to eat crow on this one," he told reporters. "We have to recognize our history is not a proud one. Our treatment of our First Nations community in the past is deplorable and it's something we can't sweep under the rug."
Browaty said he will support the idea of training all city staff and said he will request to receive the training already offered to Winnipeg Police Service employees.
But the councillor continued to question the logic behind requiring all city staff must attend the classes. He said the city issues 10,000 T4s a year and the move will result in the loss of 5,000 work days.
The cost of the classes remains unknown, he added, insisting the report to council is not open and transparent.
Speaking to reporters outside the council chamber, Bowman said he is not surprised by Browaty's comments, adding the councillor has made similar comments in private meetings.
Bowman said he will, nonetheless, consider the impact of the councillor's comments on his role as the chair of the Winnipeg Police Board.
Speaking to the cost of the sessions on reconciliation, the mayor said he believed they could be accommodated within existing council budgets.