Former Manitoba cabinet minister gets key government appointment, rejects it

 By Steve Lambert


WINNIPEG- Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was rejected again by one of his former cabinet ministers Wednesday in the latest sign of tumult within the
Progressive Conservative government.

Pallister had appointed Eileen Clarke, who resigned from cabinet earlier this month in part over Pallister’s remarks on Canadian history, to the provincial
Treasury Board, which oversees government spending.

The appointment was made official and posted online earlier this week, only to have Clarke turn it down Wednesday.

“Ms. Clarke had not been made aware of any appointment to government Treasury Board, but on (Wednesday) did receive an email from the secretary of the
Treasury Board congratulating her on the recent appointment and a request to meet,” read a prepared statement from Clarke’s constituency office.

“Eileen has contacted the premier’s office and will not be accepting the Treasury Board appointment.”

Clarke declined interview requests and no one from Pallister’s office was immediately available to comment.

The latest rejection came two weeks after Pallister stirred up controversy after two statues of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria on the legislature grounds were torn down during a protest over the deaths of Indigenous children at residential schools.

Pallister denounced the vandalism and said people who came to Canada did not do so to destroy anything, but to build communities, churches and businesses.

First Nations leaders accused Pallister of downplaying the harmful effects of colonialism. Clarke resigned her cabinet post as minister of Indigenous and northern relations two days later, and said she would retain her legislature seat.

It’s not unusual for backbenchers to be named to Treasury Board, but one political analyst said it was strange that Pallister appears not to have consulted Clarke before appointing her.

“She would have told him ‘don’t do that, premier, I’ll have to reject your offer’, so he set himself up for a rejection and did himself no good,” Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said Wednesday.

Pallister has hinted that he may not serve out his full term and leave well before the next election slated for October 2023. In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press last December, Pallister would only commit to staying on to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pressure to leave soon, or at least set a departure date in the near future, is building, Thomas said. He pointed to recent opinion polls that suggest Tory support has fallen well back of that for the opposition New Democrats. He also pointed to growing signs of dissent.

“It’s slow and it’s not a frontal attack on his leadership, but it is building,” Thomas said.

Two Indigenous men who had been appointed by the Pallister government to economic development boards quit last week, saying they could not support the
government’s take on Canadian history.

Clarke’s replacement in Indigenous relations, Alan Lagimodiere, stirred up more controversy within an hour of being appointed to cabinet last week by
saying some of the intentions behind residential schools were good.

Lagimodiere later apologized, but some members of the Tory caucus went further, going outside the normally centralized government communications
structure and posting messages on social media to thoroughly condemn residential schools.

Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard posted on Twitter that she could not “stand behind words that add hurt to traumatized people.”

Pallister has also seen the departure of some staff recently. His director of media relations and issues management, Blake Robert, served notice this week
that he is leaving for a new job at the STARS air ambulance service.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2021

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