Former Indigenous relations minister rejects Treasury Board appointment, now gov't says it was an error

Manitoba's former Indigenous and northern relations minister is rejecting an appointment by the provincial government to sit on its most powerful committee. "This again speaks to my concerns of lack of communications and decisions," Eileen Clarke said Wednesday.

Premier's spokesperson says a draft list of committee appointments was released by accident

Eileen Clarke said in an official statement that she resigned as minister for Indigenous and northern relations because she felt her voice was not being heard in cabinet. (CBC)

After Manitoba's former Indigenous and northern relations minister rejected an appointment to an important committee, officials from the premier's office are blaming the whole saga on an administrative error.

Eileen Clarke was appointed to province's Treasury Board in a cabinet order issued July 15 — a move that came as a surprise to Clarke who said no one ever asked her about it and she was rejecting the appointment.

"This again speaks to my concerns of lack of communications and decisions," Eileen Clarke said in an email to CBC News Wednesday morning.

"I wasn't asked and no, I will not be accepting the appointment,"

After issuing a brief statement to CBC News on Tuesday, saying roles in cabinet are "frequently refreshed," it revised its statement late Wednesday afternoon.

"Due to an administrative error, an outdated draft group of orders in council regarding cabinet committee memberships was inadvertently posted," wrote Olivia Billson, the premier's spokesperson in a prepared statement.

Billson said they were in the process of addressing this Tuesday and they informed Clarke about it. 

This seems to contradict what Clarke said earlier Wednesday. Clarke said she was contacted by the secretary of the Treasury Board that day, and they congratulated her and requested a meeting.

Clarke, the MLA for Agassiz, officially stepped down from her cabinet position on July 9 — two days after comments from Premier Brian Pallister that suggested the colonization of Canada was done with good intentions.

She later told CBC that the premier's comments "were a factor" in her resignation from cabinet, without going into specifics.

When asked earlier this week about Clarke's appointment to Treasury Board, Pallister's director of media relations refused to divulge any information, issuing only a brief statement.

"The membership of cabinet committees is refreshed on a regular basis to align with various government priorities and to ensure a diversity of experience and reasonable balance of workload amongst members," Blake Robert said in a prepared statement on Tuesday.

At the time, Clarke declined to comment and would not say whether she was accepting the appointment. 

"I was not even aware of this so waited till yesterday when … [orders in council] usually become public," she said in the Wednesday email.

Treasury Board is a committee made up of the finance minister, appointed cabinet ministers and backbench MLAs. It is the main financial oversight committee for the provincial government.

Clarke was previously appointed to Treasury Board in August 2017 and served for a year before she was shuffled out. 

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew learned about the government's "administrative error" during a scrum with reporters.

"That look of disbelief I just gave the camera was my reaction," Kinew said on Wednesday

"We've got a drought, we've got wildfires, we got a pandemic, we got an reopening [of the economy], we've got the historic challenge of reconciliation before us as Manitobans and the PC government is still trying to walk back or make excuses for a botched appointment to one of their cabinet committees."

Alan Lagimodiere, the new minister for Indigenous reconciliation, has since apologized after he said those running residential schools had good intentions. (CBC)

Clarke's replacement in the Indigenous and northern affairs portfolio, Alan Lagimodiere, added to the controversy last week when he told reporters at his very first press conference that those who ran residential schools believed "they were doing the right thing." 

Clarke's official July 15 statement announcing her resignation from cabinet never mentioned Pallister by name, but said she had heard from people across the province "disappointed with the representation they feel they are not getting."

"I have spoken up on several issues but I feel my voice and other voices were not heard in cabinet," the statement said.

Following her resignation, several Indigenous leaders came out criticizing Pallister and calling on him to resign.

On Sunday, The Canadian Press reported that two Indigenous men quit their government-appointed positions on Manitoba economic development boards in protest of the comments made by Pallister and Lagimodiere.

Former deputy minister Jamie Wilson, a member of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, stepped down as board chair of the Communities Economic Development Fund.

And Darrell Brown, a Cree entrepreneur, stepped down from the board of directors of the Rural Manitoba Economic Development Corporation, which provides support to businesses and communities in southern Manitoba.

Some of Pallister's MLAs have chosen to make clear their opposition to residential schools while seemingly criticizing their boss.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires said she is "deeply troubled by recent events and comments" and Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard wrote on Twitter she could not "stand behind words that add hurt to traumatized people."

Meanwhile, Robert, who is also the director of issues management for government, served notice this week that he is leaving for a new job at the STARS air ambulance service.

With files from The Canadian Press and Ian Froese