Indigenous leaders applaud news of Brian Pallister's departure

Indigenous leaders and advocacy groups say the impending departure of embattled Premier Brian Pallister is a positive move, while one political expert urges the PC party to find a replacement who is less "aggressive and combative."

Pallister's leadership style was combative and he was far too defensive, political expert says

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said the premier has moved in a direction that allows the province to move forward on reconciliation. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Indigenous leaders and advocacy groups say the impending departure of embattled Premier Brian Pallister is a positive move, while one political expert urges the Progressive Conservative Party to find a replacement who is less "aggressive and combative."

Pallister announced Tuesday he will step down as Manitoba's premier, though when is yet to be determined.

Leaving at the midpoint of his second mandate will give Manitobans time to get to know his replacement, he said.

The announcement follows weeks of speculation about his political future after his widely condemned comments about Canada's history and colonization.

The statements, made July 7 in response to the toppling of statues at the Manitoba Legislature, led to the resignation of Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke, who remains MLA for Agassiz.

Some organizations critical of the premier forwent the customary diplomatic well wishes.

"While we, as political leaders, always attempt to thank outgoing leaders for their years of service, unfortunately in this case, we at the AMC cannot," wrote Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, in a statement Tuesday.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced Tuesday he would step down from his role before the next provincial election. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

"The premier's comments, beliefs and failure to properly retract and apologize for his statements on the genocide faced by First Nation citizens in residential schools was wrong and still is wrong.

"While we always wish to be respectful and diplomatic, the hurt our citizens faced and still face by repeatedly hearing his comments remains far too raw, and for that reason we cannot truly thank the premier as he steps aside."

Indigenous leaders had called on Pallister to apologize for saying the people who came to the country before it was Canada came to build and to build better.

Pallister eventually apologized, saying his comments were misunderstood, as he had been trying pay tribute to the people — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — who've built families and communities in Canada.

But on Wednesday, in an interview with CBC Manitoba's Information Radio host Marcy Markusa, Dumas disputed that.

"He didn't apologize. He apologized for being misquoted and misunderstood. He didn't apologize. He didn't say, 'I am sorry for saying these things,'" Dumas said.

He called Pallister's remarks "callous and cold" as they came in the wake of the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada.

"That has actually caused a few steps back, collectively, on what our relationship is here in this region [with the province]," Dumas said.

Dumas hopes for "a government that will be willing to listen [to] — not only speak at — First Nations leaders."

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand said he will not miss Pallister, with whom he had many disputes.

"There have been many instances where our citizens have been treated poorly under his management," Chartrand said in a news release Wednesday. 

"It was only in his last remarks to the media that he finally said something I can agree with — the only thing better than today in Manitoba is tomorrow in Manitoba."

Two other First Nations organizations also issued news releases declaring their satisfaction with Pallister's announcement.

"We look forward to working with a leader who is fully committed to truth and reconciliation and working with First Nations in a good way," wrote Shirley Ducharme, acting acting grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, a political advocacy group for northern Manitoba First Nations.

The government of First Nations in Treaty 2 territory also applauded the decision by the premier in a news release.

"The political ideologies of any political party must be given an overhaul and align with the spirit, intent, and truth of reconciliation," the news release said.

Scott Forbes at the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations wasn't surprised by Pallister's announcement.

"The rumours have been flying for months now and … this was the expected result," he said.

Forbes feels Pallister's leadership has not been good for post-secondary education in the province nor for public education in Manitoba in general.

He hopes the next premier will withdraw Bill 64, the controversial education bill that would overhaul the province's school system, and rescind Bill 33, legislation that permits the government to set guidelines for the tuition fees and student fees charged by universities.

"We're looking for a new leader and a new group of cabinet ministers to put daylight between themselves and the Pallister policies," he said.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said the premier's departure is also welcome news for nurses, who have worked through Pallister's overhaul of the health-care system, years without a new contract and chronic short staffing. 

"For nurses, there are not going to be a lot of happy memories."

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, on the other hand, extended his well wishes to the premier via Twitter, despite a rocky relationship between the municipal and provincial governments in recent years.

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said recent mounting criticism of Pallister's leadership made his departure a foregone conclusion.

Paul Thomas says the Progressive Conservative Party needs to find "a kinder, gentler leader with a softer image who is more moderate, pragmatic, [and] constructive." (CBC)

He mentioned Eileen Clarke, who resigned from her position as Indigenous relations minister last month after the premier's colonization remarks.

Pallister replaced her with Alan Lagimodiere, who, within 10 minutes of his appointment, told reporters the people who ran Indian residential schools believed "they were doing the right thing."

That, in turn, led to two Indigenous people quitting their positions on Manitoba economic development boards.

Then there was the "blockbuster revelation" that Pallister and his party hired a private investigator to find dirt on NDP Leader Wab Kinew, Thomas said.

"I think what he wanted to do was forestall additional criticism and outright attacks and go on his own terms, or at least appear to be leaving on his own terms. He's not a guy that takes criticisms easily," Thomas said.

Clarke, when she stepped down, said she felt she and others are not being heard by Pallister. That was echoed by Dumas on Tuesday, who said in the AMC news release that they worked "to seek a respectful and collaborative partnership to no avail."

Thomas called Pallister's stubbornness in that regard "a huge blind spot."

"He just never grasped the significance of the moral obligations we have towards a group of people that have been persecuted and legally suppressed," Thomas said.

"And he just couldn't come up with a way to approach that issue. He was a polarizing figure in that area particularly. He's not a person who takes other ideas on board and changes his point of view very easily.

"His whole leadership style was aggressive and combative, and he was inconsistent at times and far too defensive."

Thomas urges the party to find "a kinder, gentler leader with a softer image who is more moderate, pragmatic [and] constructive, not someone who's as ideological and dogmatic as Pallister has been."


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.