On Monday, Speaker George Hickes handed down his ruling on Aboriginal Affairs Minister Oscar Lathlin's point of privilege – the one he raised a couple weeks ago demanding an apology from Minnedosa MLA Leanne Rowat and Tory boss Hugh McFadyen. Rowat apologized back when the whole thing erupted, but McFadyen refused to, saying his comments on CBC Radio were nowhere close to offensive.In his ruling, Hickes sided with McFadyen. This is all pretty arcane House rules type of stuff (Beauchesne Citation 31(3), anyone?) but the upshot is that the McFadyen made his comments outside the House and the speaker said he had no authority over those.But that touched off a whole ‘nother round of debate over racism and whether calling someone racist counts as unparliamentary language. Apparently, in 1995, Lathlin called a Filmon government fishing policy racist and got punted by the speaker for it, which gave him pause this time when raising hell about the Rowat comment. One interesting bit of subtext to the whole debate was discussion about other groups – Ukrainian, Mennonite, East Indian – that have also experienced racism in Manitoba, which prompted Lathlin to posit that no other group has suffered the degree of sustained racism as aboriginal people. All this is only some background to the following two excerpts from Hansard – one from Lathlin and the finale from Hickes, who is Inuit and has probably had the most interesting life of anyone in the House. Both men were riveting, for different reasons.Hon. Oscar Lathlin (Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Afairs): Mr. Speaker, you see, I have learned their ways. I went to their schools. I learned their language. I also learned their culture, their religion, their customs. I learned everything about members from the other side and also members from this side, but, you know what? They have never learned about Indian people to the degree that I learned from their society.My first language was Cree; then I was forced to learn English. I don't mind it today because now I can converse with the folks across the way and this way. Mr. Speaker, the point I am trying to make here is, I say that I'm a First Nations person. I know who I am, but I also have a very good idea what the other side and this side–the non-Indians–are all about, including members of the media. I know what they're all about because I've spent about six years learning all about them, learning their ways. I guess one might say that I've gotten to be educated on their psyche and I know what makes them tick.The last thing I want to say, Mr. Speaker, is I have a little four-year-old granddaughter and I spend a lot of time with her when I go home. I always think of the things I went through and I don't want her to experience the same thing. So I always try to teach her the good things, nice things. When she says something negative, I say, that's not nice. I hope she'll become a good citizen of Manitoba; I hope she'll become a citizen in Manitoba where she doesn't have to experience racism the way Aboriginal people have. Every time we raise that racism, instead of getting support, we get attacked.I know other ethnic groups, when they're under attack, it's like the whole world has come to an end. Everybody gets upset, but nobody gets excited when Indians get thrashed.Mr. Speaker: … I don't know if a lot of you know this, but when I was eight years old we moved to Churchill. We were the first Inuit family to ever move to Churchill. I come from a different family than pretty well anyone in this room. I come from an Inuit-style family where my mother always had two men, like two husbands. That's why our family is Hickes and Tootoos, because we all lived in the same house. When we moved to Churchill, we were the only family living that way. Do you think we were not criticized or looked down upon? We arrived there with our caribou-skin clothing, our mukluks, and do you not think we had a lot of explaining to do? Over the years, we had tremendous amount of explaining to do.But I can go to Churchill. I can hold my head high. People understand now. They are educated. I think when we talk about hurtful or offensive or intolerance of some people or a comment that is made in a racist manner, that is deemed to be racist by a member, we have the opportunity to hear it and for that to be explained so, hopefully, we can all get a better understanding of it. To me, that is very important and that's why, as long as I am the Speaker, any one of you, I don't care what side of the House you're sitting on, any one of you if you feel that way, you rise up on a point of order or–I would recommend a point of order, but if you rise up on a point of order or matter of privilege, I will hear you and I will make a ruling, because that is your right as a member. My job as the Speaker is to protect the rights of all members.
Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first covering city hall and then the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter.
Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.
Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school. She has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category.
She was a Southam journalism fellow at the University of Toronto’s Massey College in 2012-13, where she studied indigenous issues, urban planning and political science. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists and has served on several boards.
She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.