WINNIPEG – Conservative party Leader Pierre Poilievre defended his decision Friday to speak to a think tank that has come under fire for comments on residential schools and discrimination.
“We speak with groups all the time with which we disagree,” Poilievre said in an interview after his speech to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg.
In 2018, the centre ran radio ads, which were soon pulled, that said it was a myth residential schools robbed Indigenous children of their childhood.
Last summer, the centre posted a commentary on its website that said stories about murdered and secretly buried residential schoolchildren are highly suspicious, if not completely false. And last month, the centre posted an article that said anti-white male policies represent the only systemic discrimination there is.
Federal Liberal cabinet minister Dan Vandal, who represents a Winnipeg riding, accused Poilievre of promoting ideas and organizations that do not represent Winnipeg or Manitoba.
Marc Miller, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, also criticized the Conservative leader.
“In 2008, Mr. Poilievre rightfully apologized for saying that residential school survivors, many of whom were of very advanced age, should learn the value of hard work. Today’s stunt puts into question that apology,” read a post on Miller’s Twitter account.
Poilievre said his feelings are clear.
“I obviously support reconciliation and I believe that residential schools are an ugly and horrific blight on our history of the country.”
Poilievre also fired back at his opponents, saying Liberal and NDP politicians in the past have spoken to the frontier centre.
His staff provided examples, including former federal finance minister Paul Martin giving an interview to the centre 21 years ago and former governor general and Manitoba NDP premier Ed Schreyer speaking at a centre luncheon in 2013, 29 years after he last held public office.
Poilievre also compared the situation to federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s support for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government, after Trudeau admitted to having used blackface and brownface in costumes during his younger days.
Officials at the frontier centre did not immediately return requests for comment.
Poilievre’s speech was part of a daylong visit to the Manitoba capital, where a byelection is soon expected to fill the Winnipeg South Centre seat held by Liberal member of Parliament Jim Carr, who died in December.
The seat has a long Liberal tradition, although the Conservatives won it for a term in 2011.
Poilievre said he will be campaigning in the riding and expressed optimism.
“I think people in Manitoba have suffered enough under Trudeau and they want a change.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2023.
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