Thunder Bay

Peter MacKay says he's not sorry for controversial tweet

Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay says he's not sorry for a controversial tweet in which he praised a group of Albertans for dismantling a railway blockade set up by Indigenous protesters. The blockade was built by supporters of the Wet-suwet-en hereditary chiefs, who are fighting construction of a pipeline on their unceded traditional lands in British Columbia.

MacKay was greeted by protesters during a visit to Thunder Bay

Federal Conservative party leadership hopeful Peter MacKay speaks with former Thunder Bay city councillor Linda Rydholm during a visit to Thunder Bay Thursday. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay says he's not sorry for a controversial tweet in which he praised a group of Albertans for dismantling a railway blockade set up by Indigenous protesters.

The blockade was built by supporters of the Wet-suwet-en hereditary chiefs, who are fighting construction of a pipeline on their unceded traditional lands in British Columbia.

"Glad to see a couple Albertans with a pickup truck can do more for our economy in an afternoon than Justin Trudeau could do in four years," he said in the Tweet, which has since been deleted. 

The Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Alvin Fiddler, criticized MacKay for the tweet, saying his words promote vigilante justice and are irresponsible. 

But speaking to reporters Thursday at a meet and greet in Thunder Bay, Ont., MacKay rejected that criticism.

"What I did was recognize that individuals took it upon themselves to move material that was blocking a railway," he said. "This was not a counterprotest. This was not anything other than people doing something that I think was actually a responsible thing to do. So people can characterize it another way. They can torque the story and try to misrepresent it, but that's what I thought it was."

More than 100 people gathered outside the Finlandia Club for a rally Thursday while Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay held a meet-and-greet inside. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Asked if he had met with Indigenous leaders during his visit to Thunder Bay, MacKay said that he had, but he would not say who he met with because "it was in private."

MacKay said he reached out to Indigenous leaders who had organized a protest outside his event to denounce his remarks but they had been unavailable to meet with him. 

A spokesperson for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation confirmed that a representative of MacKay contacted the organization.  However, she said the contact was made on the day of MacKay's Thunder Bay event, and it was not possible to schedule the Grand Chief to meet with him on short notice. 

More than 100 people took part in the rally outside MacKay's event at the Finlandia Club, which was part show of solidarity with Wet-suwet-en hereditary chiefs and part  protest against MacKay's comments.

Participant Sam Achneepineskum tries not to pay attention to words like MacKay's, he said, but added, "It's probably a turning point in our history, I think – I hope – that people stand up [against] those kind[s] of talk and those kinds of behaviors and really try to find a good way to move forward to everybody."

Achneepineskum attended the rally to "be there" for the protesters across the land, he said and expressed his hope for a peaceful resolution to the protests. 

"The people today have come to a point where they say enough is enough," he said, "It's been a long struggle ever since confederation and the recognition of our rights and all those things, and we take a step forward and a step back sometimes.  And whatever we can do to move it forward, it's all good."

If everyone can more forward together in a good way, Achneepineskum said, it will benefit the economy and create jobs.

A woman from Nibinamik said she was at the protests because her community shares similar concerns to the Wet-suwet-en hereditary chiefs when it comes to protecting their community and way of life in the face of potential development. 

"We're almost in the same position as them because we have the Ring of Fire in our community – close to our community," Ila Beaver said. 

"We still hunt, and we still trap in our community, and I think it's important to protect the land and the water." 

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