Manitoba premier appoints new ministers, replacing Clarke, Pedersen

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has named Alan Lagimodiere the province's first minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations.

2 new ministers sworn in Thursday after Indigenous relations minister stepped down over premier's comments

Premier Brian Pallister on Thursday defended his comments from last week, which many people took to be a suggestion that colonization was done with good intentions. (CBC)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has named Alan Lagimodiere the province's first minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations.

The Métis member of the legislative assembly for Selkirk was given the title in a cabinet shuffle on Thursday morning that also brought in Waverley MLA Jon Reyes as minister of economic development and jobs.

Lakeside MLA Ralph Eichler, who had the position Reyes now holds, was sworn in as minister of agriculture and resource development, replacing Midland MLA Blaine Pedersen, who will not be running for re-election.

The cabinet shuffle followed the resignation of Agassiz MLA Eileen Clarke as minister of Indigenous and northern relations, who stepped down last week after Pallister suggested the colonization of Canada was done with good intentions.

Clarke didn't confirm her resignation until Wednesday and made her first statement about it on Thursday morning.

After the swearing-in ceremony for the new cabinet ministers, Pallister was asked about Clarke's statement that she felt her voice and others were not being heard in cabinet, and people across the province are "disappointed with the representation they feel they are not getting" from the current government.

Pallister said Clarke and others are being heard by the "team."

"I think that it's an emotional time right now and I think it's a time of sadness for some but happiness for others, so I'd like to focus today on the people that are going to be happy here as new appointees to our cabinet team," he said.

"And Eileen and I will continue to have the relationship that we've had that has been strong and supportive for a long, long time."

Pallister said he and Clarke have known each other since they were both 21 and he called her "a tremendous contributor" to the party.

'I'm not going to have a negative thing to say about Eileen Clarke," Pallister said, adding the government is pursuing an agenda "for change and reform" and anticipates Clarke will play a role in it.

Pallister also defended the comments he made last week, when he chastised people involved in pulling down statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on the grounds of the legislature on Canada Day, after a walk for Indigenous children who died at residential schools.

The people who came to Canada "didn't come here to destroy anything. They came here to build. They came to build better," he said last week, adding the statues would be restored.

On Thursday, Pallister said those comments paid tribute to Canadians and pre-Canada builders.

"I spoke about people who came here with hope to build families and communities. I spoke with sincerity. I spoke genuinely," he said.

"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."

Have an 'open mind'

Pallister was asked how could still defend those remarks when Indigenous cultures were destroyed by European settlers.

"Read my comments. Indigenous people were the first Canadians, they were newcomers at that point in time," he said.

"They forged a life by building. They worked diligently to do that for millennia."

Subsequent newcomers couldn't have survived without the partnerships, support and shared knowledge from the Indigenous people, he said.

That sharing is how Manitoba will continue to move forward, Pallister said, adding his comments were intended to encourage that continued building. 

"When anyone speaks on these issues there is a danger that they'll be harshly criticized. I've recognized that for a long time," he said.

"Read my comments with an open mind and ask yourself if it could not be interpreted to be more of an invitation to build than a defence of anything colonial."

However, "this day should be about these gentlemen" serving the province in cabinet, he said, turning the attention back on his new appointees.

"These gentlemen are indicative of the kind of talent and depth we have on our team," he said.

Alan Lagimodiere, the MLA for Selkirk, is Manitoba's new minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations. (Legislative Assembly of Manitoba)

Lagimodiere was born and raised in northern Manitoba and has been given a mandate to develop an agenda for reconciliation in consultation with First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders, the province said.

Addressing reporters on Thursday, Lagimodiere said he has the utmost respect for his predecessor Clarke, who worked hard to move reconciliation forward.

He also suggested those who ran residential schools believed they were doing so with good intent.

"It's easy to judge in the past," Lagimodiere said. "From my knowledge of it, the residential school system was designed to take Indigenous children and give them the skills and abilities they would need to fit into society as it moved forward."

He was immediately confronted at the base of the legislative steps by NDP Leader Wab Kinew, whose father was a survivor of the residential school system, where many First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

WATCH | Wab Kinew confront Alan Lagimodiere about the minister's residential school comments:

Manitoba NDP leader calls out new Indigenous reconciliation minister

1 year ago
Duration 1:58
NDP Leader Wab Kinew spoke up during the first media appearance from Manitoba's new Indigenous reconciliation minister Alan Lagimodiere on Thursday, after Lagimodiere said the residential school system was designed to give Indigenous children "skills and abilities" and that leaders believed they were doing the right thing.

"It was the expressed intent of residential schools to kill the Indian in the child," Kinew said. "It is not cultural relativism, it is not revisionist history, for us to say that that was wrong."

Lagimodiere later posted a message on Twitter, calling residential schools tragic and trying to explain his comments.

Pallister's other new minister, Reyes, is a former small business owner, Canadian Armed Forces veteran and founder and first president of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council whose job will be to help with the post-pandemic economic recovery, the news release said.

MLA Jon Reyes was sworn into cabinet alongside Lagimodiere on Thursday morning. (Submitted by Jon Reyes)

As the new agriculture minister, Eichler's immediate priority will be to develop drought relief support for farmers and ranchers, the province said.

The following ministers' portfolio responsibilities have not changed:

  • Kelvin Goertzen, deputy premier, minister of legislative and public affairs.
  • Heather Stefanson, minister of health and seniors care.
  • Cameron Friesen, minister of justice and attorney general.
  • Ron Schuler, minister of infrastructure.
  • Cliff Cullen, minister of education.
  • Scott Fielding, minister of finance.
  • Cathy Cox, minister of sport, culture and heritage, minister responsible for the status of women.
  • Rochelle Squires, minister of families, minister responsible for francophone affairs.
  • Jeff Wharton, minister of Crown services.
  • Reg Helwer, minister of central services.
  • Sarah Guillemard, minister of conservation and climate.
  • Derek Johnson, minister of municipal relations.
  • Audrey Gordon, minister of mental health, wellness and recovery.
  • Wayne Ewasko, minister of advanced education, skills and immigration.

Premier Brian Pallister adds some new members to his cabinet

1 year ago
Duration 2:01
Prompted by the resignation of former Indigenous affairs minister Eileen Clarke, Premier Brian Pallister adds some new members to his cabinet.


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Caitlyn Gowriluk