Minister resigns from N.L. cabinet after 'hurt' caused by comments that shocked Innu Nation

Remarks left on a voice message by a Newfoundland and Labrador cabinet minister that one staffer describes as "very racist" shocked Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich.

Grand Chief Gregory Rich says voice mail makes him wonder what else is said

Perry Trimper, the MHA for the Lake Melville district, had just been reappointed to the environment portfolio in N.L. Premier Dwight Ball's cabinet. He stepped back from the role Friday. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's municipal affairs and environment minister has resigned from cabinet over remarks that Perry Trimper had inadvertently left on a voice mail, and which were described as "very racist" by an Innu Nation staffer.

"These are not comments that reflect this government," Premier Dwight Ball told reporters Friday afternoon.

Trimper announced earlier in the day that he was resigning his ministerial duties. Ball said it was Trimper's voluntary decision to do so. 

The move came less than a day after the Innu Nation released the audio of a voice mail that Trimper — who represents the central Labrador district of Lake Melville in the House of Assembly — left on for Innu Nation staffer Dominic Rich. After leaving the message, Trimper and and unidentified woman continued their conversation. 

"Reflecting upon the hurt that my words have caused, I've decided to step back from my ministerial responsibilities as my focus must be on repairing relationships," Trimper said.

"This is the best decision."

Trimper — who had been appointed to cabinet one week ago, after serving as Speaker — remains in the Liberal government caucus, Ball said.

The premier announced that Derrick Bragg, MHA for Fogo Island-Cape Freels, will take over as municipal affairs and environment minister.

Bragg was sworn in on Friday night. 

According to Ball, Trimper deserves a second chance. He said Trimper has not demonstrated this type of behaviour in the past. 

Ball said government's priority is reconciliation with Trimper and the Innu Nation. He said government also plans to meet with the Innu Nation.

"When I first listened to it I was shocked and baffled," Grand Chief Gregory Rich said on Friday.

"I had to listen to it more than twice, in order to grasp what I was hearing — to the point where I had to get my other colleagues to listen to it to really bring me to reality of the contents of what this person was saying." 

Trimper had called Dominic Rich in relation to his questions about translator services for motor vehicle registration.

What did Perry Trimper and a colleague say? Hear the recording: 

Perry Trimper left a voicemail with the Innu Nation. He didn't hang up

4 years ago
Duration 5:01
Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper accidentally left a voicemail on a member of the Innu Nation's voicemail.

That recorded conversation was posted by the Innu Nation on Thursday.

In it, the woman says "they have a feeling of entitlement." Trimper says, "the race card comes up all the time."

"Man, don't play that on me. I've been 32 years working with you guys, don't play that on me," he says in the recording.

Trimper apologized on air for the remarks during CBC's Here & Now.

"Regardless if it was recorded or not, I shouldn't have said it," he told CBC News on Thursday after apologizing.

Trimper did call Rich on Thursday night to apologize over the phone. But when asked by Rich, wouldn't identify the woman on the recording.

"He said he was very sorry for what he said on the voice mail where he was recorded, and that's not him," Rich said.

"My spiritual balance cannot bring me into that environment to accept the apology.... The implications and the ripple effect of those contents, those words, and the demonstration of that racism, remarks and statements has a tremendous impact to the Innu and the First Nations."   

Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich says Trimper called him Thursday to apologize for remarks in a voice mail recording. Rich said it makes him question what has been said behind closed doors. (Bailey White/CBC)

But what about the unidentified woman? 

Rich told CBC News on Friday that he would like to have her identified 

"This person has the same views, and the same spiritual, emotional and psychological mentality as Mr. Trimper," Rich said via Skype interview.

"I would love, very much [for her] to be identified. Yes. It would undermine everything that the Innu has been working for. Their aspirations. And not just the Innu, but other groups as well." 

Ball told reporters during his news conference on Friday afternoon that he will not identify the woman on tape. 

He said she is not an individual who is in an executive role, in a management role or in a policy role.

Resignation was right, Crosbie says   

Minutes after Trimper's announcement Friday, PC Leader Ches Crosbie told reporters that Trimper made the right decision to resign from cabinet. 

When asked if he should be removed from the Liberal caucus, Crosbie said that should be up to the Innu Nation.

"Sadly, the resignation of Minister Trimper became inevitable when it became clear this morning that the Innu Nation had lost confidence in his ability, or in their relationship with him in his ability to represent their best interests," Crosbie told reporters Friday afternoon.

"And in addition they rejected his apology. So he bowed, to his credit, to the inevitable." 

PC Leader Ches Crosbie told reporters on Friday that the Innu Nation deserves to know whose was the second voice on the tape. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Crosbie agreed with Rich that the Innu Nation has the right to know whose is the second voice on the recording, and whether that person has an important post with the provincial Liberals.

"Is she a public servant? Because if she's not a public servant, what was she doing being privy to the conduct of government business with an Indigenous group?" he said. 

Gregory Rich, meanwhile, said the Innu Nation is still reeling.

"We were very shocked and today we are still talking about it, and we were wondering why would Minister Trimper say these kinds of things to the Innu people," Rich said.

"Basically it's a racial remark to the Innu people, and we've been working with Minister Trimper for many years and we don't understand why he would make comments toward Innu people like that."

The Innu Nation was in a meeting late into Friday night and, by 10:30 p.m. NT, was still discussing its plan.

According to the group's communications director, "Innu leaders are continuing to discuss their confidence in the government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Innu Nation's upcoming meeting with the premier."

The group said it is expecting to release an official statement early next week. 

"We're going to draft a strongly worded letter to the premier and at the same time we'll talk internally of what we need to do, because this is a very serious issue, when this kind of comment is coming from [a member of] the government, like Minister Trimper," Rich said.

Perry Trimper apologizes to Innu Nation

4 years ago
Duration 6:23
Lake Melville MHA and cabinet minister Perry Trimper apologized live on Here & Now Thursday after a voicemail was leaked

"It also makes me wonder what's being said behind closed doors."

On Thursday, Ball sent out a statement, saying he had spoken to Gregory Rich to apologize for what happened.

"In no way does Minister Trimper's comments reflect the views of Premier Ball, or that of the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Government values the relationship with the Innu Nation and holds the Innu Nation in the highest respect," Ball had said.

Ball said during Friday's news conference that there will be discussions about cultural and sensitivity training moving forward. 

As for Trimper, in an interview with CBC Radio's As It Happens late Friday afternoon, he said he's working on fixing his relationship with his constituents and that he has to believe the relationship isn't completely damaged with the Innu Nation in particular. 

"I'll set that objective and go for it," he said.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning