Tory MP says sorry to natives for 'hurtful' remarks
Published Thursday, June 12, 2008 6:04PM EDT
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre has apologized for saying Canada's aboriginals need to learn the value of hard work more than they need compensation for abuse suffered in residential schools.
Poilievre, the parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board, rose in the House of Commons on Thursday afternoon to acknowledge his mistake.
"Yesterday on a day when the House and all Canadians were celebrating a new beginning, I made remarks that were hurtful and wrong," he said. "I accept responsibility for them and I apologize."
Poilievre made the comments during a radio interview Wednesday, just hours before Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for abuse aboriginal children endured in once-mandatory residential schools.
"Now along with this apology comes another $4 billion in compensation for those who partook in the residential schools over those years,'' said Poilievre, in a clip circulated by the Liberal Opposition, of which members called for his resignation.
Poilievre, who represents the Ottawa-area riding of Nepean-Carleton, went on to question the merits of related compensation payments.
"Now, you know, some of us are starting to ask: 'Are we really getting value for all of this money, and is more money really going to solve the problem?'
"My view is that we need to engender the values of hard work and independence and self reliance. That's the solution in the long run -- more money will not solve it."
On CTV's Mike Duffy Live, opposition MPs called Poilievre's comments "racist" and those of a "redneck."
"What surfaced in Poilievre's remark was the old Reform-Alliance racist attitude that this Conservative Party has been trying to run away from," Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh said.
"Pierre sounded like the old redneck hillbillies we used to make fun of in the old days," NDP MP Pat Martin said. "I think Pierre has done himself a great disservice . . . I think he's damaged his career somewhat."
Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro said that Poilievre's comments didn't properly reflect Poilievre's beliefs.
"Maybe (the comments) were a reflection he had at the moment, I don't think he believes that," Del Mastro said on Mike Duffy Live. "I think like everyone else he joined with the prime minister in seeing yesterday as a fresh start, a new start for relations with aboriginals."
CTV parliamentary correspondent Roger Smith said many Conservatives are also angry at Poilievre.
"Certainly the content of what he said is very debatable, his timing was not very good at all," said Smith.
CTV's Craig Oliver said on Mike Duffy Live that Poilievre's comments took the edge off "Stephen Harper's best day as prime minister" and that Harper had to be furious.
However, Harper was quick to accept Poilievre's apology, saying he is confident in the MP's support of aboriginal rights issues.
Poilievre also told CFRA News Talk Radio that aboriginal chiefs have too much control.
"That gets to the heart of the problem on these reserves where there is too much power concentrated in the hands of the leadership, and it makes you wonder where all of this money is going.
"We spend 10 billion dollars -- 10 billion dollars -- in annual spending this year alone now, that is an exceptional amount of money, and that is on top of all the resource revenue that goes to reserves that sit on petroleum products or sit on uranium mines, other things where companies have to pay them royalties.
"And that's on top of all that money that they earn on their own reserves. That is an incredible amount of money.''
After the uproar surrounding his comments, Poilievre tried to clarify his position in a statement late Wednesday:
"I stated that aboriginals deserve protection under Canada's human rights laws and that the record dollars that the government is spending on aboriginals should reach the people in need,'' the e-mailed statement said.
"I agree with the prime minister when he said ... the treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history.
"Today we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.''
With files from The Canadian Press