Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MPs battle over newsletter labelling Riel a 'villain'

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OTTAWA -- Two Manitoba Conservative MPs said Friday an Alberta member of their caucus wasn't speaking for them or their party when he vilified Louis Riel in a newsletter to constituents in December.

The dispute arose just days after Manitobans celebrated their founding father with the relatively new February holiday named after him when the MPs discovered Edmonton East Conservative MP Peter Goldring had penned a four-page missive on Riel. The newsletter says Riel was a "villain who caused 80 to die" and calls attempts to exonerate him akin to condoning anarchy. "Riel clearly chose to lead; he also clearly chose to incite uprisings that caused many to die," wrote Goldring. "As the leader of these uprisings, Riel is responsible for each and every death occurring as a consequence of his actions."

The newsletter appears to be a reaction to a private member's bill introduced in November by Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin to exonerate Riel and erect a monument to him on Parliament Hill. Manitoba Conservative MPs Shelly Glover and Rod Bruinooge, both Métis, say while Goldring is entitled to his opinion, they don't agree with him, nor does their party. Bruinooge said he told Goldring the newsletter was "not very helpful to the Métis people."

"I feel Louis Riel was very horribly treated," said Bruinooge. "I don't see his hanging as an example of good justice."

Glover said she spoke to Goldring Thursday night to find out not only why he'd pen such a piece, but why he didn't give her and other Manitoba Tory MPs a heads-up.

"Let's just say we agree to disagree on the facts of history," Glover said. "It's very unfortunate he doesn't understand the true accomplishments of Louis Riel."

She added the Conservative party stands behind her on Riel's place in Canadian history, and that Goldring's views are his alone.

"We absolutely refute his claim Louis Riel was a villain," she said. "This not a Conservative party statement. This is someone who was speaking only as an individual."

The Prime Minister's Office backed up Glover and Bruinooge. "This document is absolutely not, in any way, an initiative of our government or our party," said PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas in an emailed statement. "This is a personal initiative of MP Goldring, which we strongly disapprove of. Louis Riel is a historical and controversial figure. But he played an important role in the development of Canada and in the protection of the rights and culture of the Métis and francophones in Canada." Goldring didn't respond to a request for an interview Friday. The newsletter is now no longer available on his website.

Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand wrote to Harper Feb. 9 to complain about Goldring's writings. Chartrand said he hasn't yet heard back from Harper directly, but he feels certain from hearing Glover's words the Conservatives are not standing by Goldring.

"We're in a new era for the Métis people," said Chartrand.

Opposition politicians also demanded an apology from Goldring for the newsletter.

Martin called Goldring "reckless and irresponsible."

But Martin's bill isn't sitting well with Chartrand, Glover or Bruinooge.

Glover said she doesn't like some of the language in the bill.

Chartrand and Bruinooge said pardoning Riel isn't the way to ensure his role in Canadian and Manitoba history is properly acknowledged.

Bruinooge said if Métis leaders don't agree on how to deal with Riel's conviction, Martin should stay out of it.

"I don't think a non-Métis politician has any business getting into this," said Bruinooge.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2010 A3

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