For a man who prides himself on his support for First Nations in Manitoba, we find it disquieting that Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has failed to denounce racist comments recently made by the president of the Tory’s youth wing.
Last Friday, after a federal court ruled that the federal government failed to consult four First Nations on the sale of the former Kapyong Barracks site in Winnipeg, the head of the PC youth wing made some derogatory public comments that drew a lot of unwanted attention to the party.
“Looks like they might be announcing that they’re building a freaking reserve in the middle of Winnipeg. This city is quickly becoming the laughingstock of the entire country,” he wrote in a Facebook post Friday, the CBC reported.
After some people commented on that post, Mazurkiewich then wrote: “That was built for hard-working men and women of the military, not freeloading Indians.”
He also made other comments on his Twitter account, including what seemed to be an initial reaction to the news.
“Oh shit. Well, maybe we’ll have access to cheap cigarettes?” he tweeted, with a reference to a CJOB story link to the headline “Kapyong Deal Done.”
Party president Ryan Matthews spoke out publicly against Mazurkiewich’s remarks. In a press release issued by Matthews, said the youth president’s comments were deemed “conduct detrimental to our party,” though he did not call the comments racist.
“As PC Manitoba party president I have asked Brayden Mazurkiewich for his resignation and received it,” Matthews added.
Yet Pallister has refused to comment, and it doesn’t appear he’s going to comment — his spokesman told the CBC yesterday the PC leader doesn’t feel he needs to because Mazurkiewich is not an MLA, and the party has already addressed the situation.
More likely, his handlers suggested he keep his mouth shut in the hope that it would all just go away during the next media cycle.
But this issue is not going away easily. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs sent an open letter to media yesterday saying that Grand Chief Derek Nepinak had cancelled a meeting scheduled with Pallister’s office today, and called for a full public apology on behalf of the Progressive Conservative party.
“We see this call to step down as an exercise in political correctness and nothing more,” read the letter, regarding Mazurkiewich’s resignation. “The individual in question continues to engage in racially biased comments that are far too frequent to be accidental.”
In fact, Mazurkiewich did provide a tepid apology through a story that appeared in the Winnipeg Sun following his comments. But he stood by his right to have made the comments.
“I apologize to anyone I may have offended, but at the end of the day I work very hard and I pay my taxes, and a lot of people don’t,” he said.
“I pay my fair share of taxes, I should be able to say what I want.”
There are times a politician can distance himself from politically damaging comments by keeping mum, but not this time. Pallister’s silence seems to indicate a tacit approval for the tone and content of Mazurkiewich’s comments, which does nothing to help the Tories gain any traction with First Nations.
And that’s a shame, especially for a man who has openly tried to help First Nations people in Manitoba.
Just this month, a Pallister-led motion that called for Ottawa to extend marital property rights to reserves was unanimously backed by both the NDP and the sole Liberal party member in the legislature.
If passed by the federal government, Bill S-2 would extend matrimonial property rights to First Nations residents and would “profoundly impact in a positive way on First Nations women in particular,” Pallister told the Sun following the passing of his motion.
It was a good news story that followed through on Pallister’s long-standing spoken support for aboriginal people in this province.
But such positive news all goes for naught if he continues to turtle when his party needs his leadership the most.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 19, 2012