February 22, 2020

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Pallister defends fundraising letter touting work to remove rail blockades

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Premier Brian Pallister sent a letter to Progressive Conservative party supporters touting his government's decision to seek an injunction to remove a blockade of the CN Rail main line west of Winnipeg.</p></p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Brian Pallister sent a letter to Progressive Conservative party supporters touting his government's decision to seek an injunction to remove a blockade of the CN Rail main line west of Winnipeg.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is defending a letter he sent Thursday to Progressive Conservative supporters that attempted to capitalize on divisions between the Tories and NDP over recent rail blockades to raise funds for his party.

The letter touted the PC government's decision Wednesday to seek an injunction to remove a blockade of the CN Rail main line west of Winnipeg, while claiming the provincial NDP "have been vocal in their support of those behind the blockades."

It said the Tories "won't stand back while two-tier justice happens in our province."

On Friday, Pallister said "two-tier" referred to whether laws were being enforced or not. When asked whether he considered use of the term racist, he said: "Not in the least."

The premier also said his view of the blockades — set up in support for a group of hereditary chiefs opposed to the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern British Columbia — was the same as expressed in a recent Globe and Mail editorial, which called for the enforcement of the rule of law in the dispute.

The editorial read, in part: "The fact is, though, it has become the practice in this country to tread lightly when dealing with protests involving Indigenous people, even when the rule of law offers a quick remedy for illegal blockades."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew accused Pallister of promoting divisions within Canada.

"He's trying to pit Indigenous people versus non-Indigenous people, when actually what this moment calls for is a voice for reconciliation, for moderation, for dialogue and for negotiation," Kinew said Friday.

The PC fundraising letter dominated a news conference called by the premier to trumpet news that 6,500 more Manitobans were working in January than in December, the largest month-over-month jobs increase in more than a decade.

Kinew denied his party had taken sides in the protest.

On Thursday, Pallister had condemned a tweet by NDP MLA Mark Wasyliw that was critical of the premier's bid to seek an injunction to end the rail blockade in Manitoba. (The province withdrew its bid after learning CN Rail had already applied successfully to the courts.)

"This is NOT what reconciliation looks like," Wasyliw's tweet said, in part.

Targeting Pallister, Kinew said: "Real leadership... is one that can speak to both sides" of a dispute... I want to see trains moving again, but I also want to see Indigenous rights respected."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont initially issued a statement condemning the PC fundraising letter as being "rife with racist remarks." He later amended the statement to say the letter contained "racist dog-whistles."

"We stand by the fact that the letter was racist, because the letter accuses other people of breaking the law and suggests we have a two-tier justice system, and that Indigenous people are allowed to break the law without consequence," Lamont said in his amended statement.

In dismissing accusations the fundraising letter was in any way racist, Pallister said it is a "false assertion" only Indigenous people are participating in the rail blockades.

"I think, frankly, what some of the people who've gone overboard in these blockades have done is they've weakened the case of reconciliation, not helped it," he told reporters Friday.

"When people start disrespecting others' rights and breaking the laws of our land, they're setting reconciliation back. They're not advancing it."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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