Manitoba politicians mark Orange Shirt Day, PC leader maintains low media profile

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s two major political party leaders marked the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in very different ways Saturday.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew, whose Opposition party is leading in opinion polls, spoke to a large crowd that had marched through downtown Winnipeg. He also talked with reporters, as he has virtually every day of the campaign toward Tuesday’s provincial election.

Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson was at Gambler First Nation in western Manitoba. It has been more than a week since Stefanson held a news conference in Winnipeg, where 32 of the 57 legislature seats are.

The fact that the incumbent premier has left recent party announcements to other Tory candidates is surprising, one political analyst said.

“Towards the end of a campaign, you expect the leader to be going full throttle in terms of pressing the flesh, being out there in front of media, at rallies et cetera,” said Christopher Adams, adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

Adams pointed to a couple of possible reasons.

The Tory campaign might have decided that Stefanson does better in small groups than in news conferences, he said. Stefanson also appears to be focused on some rural seats the Tories might be in danger of losing, such as Dauphin and Brandon East, Adams added.

Stefanson praised Gambler First Nation’s partnership in a local potash mine, and pointed to Tory promises including funding for an addiction recovery centre in Winnipeg.

“Economic reconciliation and partnerships with First Nations are key to moving our province forward,” Stefanson said in a prepared statement.

The Progressive Conservatives’ relationship with Indigenous leaders has been strained. The Tories have, for almost two years, been considering making the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, a provincial statutory holiday. But they have not yet committed to doing so.

The Tories have also angered Indigenous leaders by refusing to search the Prairie Green Landfill, a private facility north of Winnipeg, for the remains of two Indigenous women believed to have been taken there last year.

The Tories have cited concerns for the safety of searchers who would be dealing with asbestos and toxic material. They have recently taken out campaign advertisements promoting that they will “stand firm” against the “landfill dig”.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew, conversely, has been largely embraced by Indigenous leaders. He was greeted with loud applause Saturday at a powwow marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and given an endorsement by Jerry Daniels, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization, which represents 34 First Nations communities.

Kinew, the son of a residential school survivor, reiterated his party’s promise to make Orange Shirt Day a statutory holiday if elected Tuesday. He also urged young people to remain connected to their culture.

“Every time you dance at a powwow, every time you sing, every time you speak your language, you prove that the architects of the residential school era failed in their quest to destroy our cultures.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2023

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