As the Leader of the PC Party of Manitoba, I look forward to working with you toward a better future for all Manitobans. Only when we create an environment where all of Manitoba’s children, indigenous and non-indigenous, can achieve their true potential will Manitoba reach its potential.
For some time, I have watched the provincial government’s approach toward First Nations with growing concern. I want to propose a different approach - one I was taught as a young man.
I was born and raised on a small farm southwest of Portage la Prairie, not far from Long Plain and Dakota Plains First Nations. One of my grandfather’s most respected friends was Long Plain Chief Angus Merrick. Chief Merrick believed in partnerships built through mutual respect and understanding. He educated many non-Aboriginal people about the history, culture and traditions of First Nations people. He spoke to young students in my mother’s classroom and many, many others. He reached out to build trust. He was a true leader.
When I served as a Member of Parliament representing this province, I was asked to become the critic for the Department of Indian Affairs. I met hundreds of indigenous Canadians, visiting more than 100 First Nations communities, reading the complete volumes of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, building on the foundation of understanding that Angus Merrick had given so generously to me years before: advocating for self-government, greater transparency, more resources for education, improvements in housing and reforms to the Indian Act to strengthen economic opportunities.
At the urging of local First Nations women, I joined the struggle for equal matrimonial property rights. The absence of equal matrimonial property rights on reserve had caused many Aboriginal women to lose their homes, their property and even access to their children. Many chiefs opposed changes. Many politicians supported the chiefs, directly or indirectly through inaction. A victory for equality was achieved with the passage of the First Nations Matrimonial Property Act in 2013.
Chief Merrick taught that we should have respect for all cultures, all people. I believe it would be disrespectful to try to buy a friend. It would be disrespectful to buy popularity among First Nations people with money taken from others. I have too much respect for indigenous people and all Manitobans to buy their friendship.
I was taught and I believe that real friendship must be earned. Real friendship is based on trust. Chief Angus Merrick was a leader who worked to build mutual respect and understanding. I will honour him by doing the same.
I will do the same by working closely with First Nations to develop new economic opportunities that are real and lasting.
I want a better life for all Manitobans. Working together, we can achieve that.