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Return of Eileen Clarke to Tory cabinet praised by MKO

Former Indigenous and northern relations minister Eileen Clarke, who resigned from former premier Brian Pallister's cabinet in the summer, became municipal relations minister on Jan. 18 when Premier Heather Stefanson shuffled the Manitoba cabinet.
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Agassiz MLA Eileen Clarke, who was named Manitoba's minister of municipal relations Jan. 18 by Premier Heather Stefanson.

A Manitoba grand chief is praising Premier Heather Stefanson for promoting Manitoba’s former Indigenous relations minister back to a position in cabinet.

On Jan. 18, Stefanson announced her first cabinet shuffle since taking office in November.

With the shuffle, Agassiz MLA Eileen Clarke is now back in cabinet, as she has been named minister of municipal relations.

Clarke stepped down as Indigenous relations minister last year after controversial comments were made by former premier Brian Pallister about protesters who tore down two statues near the Manitoba legislature during protests that were held on Canada Day.

“It is positive to know Eileen Clarke has been appointed as the minister of municipal affairs,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a Jan. 18 statement released after the shuffle was announced.

“MKO had a productive relationship with Minister Clarke in her past role as minister of Indigenous and northern relations.”

Settee added MKO plans to reach out to Clarke to discuss the state of health care services in the Leaf Rapids area of northern Manitoba, where the local health care centre has been forced to close on multiple occasions because of staff shortages.

“As we have ongoing concerns with the provision of health services in the municipality of Leaf Rapids, my office will be reaching out to her to seek assistance on this matter,” Settee said.

With the shuffle, both Ralph Eichler, who served as agriculture minister, and Cathy Cox, who served as minister for sport, culture and status of women were removed from cabinet.

Clarke, along with Turtle Mountain MLA Doyle Piwniuk, Lagimodière MLA Andrew Smith, and Assiniboia MLA Scott Johnston were added to cabinet Jan. 18.

Settee said that he is optimistic there is enough “continuity” in the new cabinet to continue to make progress on issues that affect First Nations people and communities.

“It is reassuring to see some continuity in Premier Heather Stefanson’s cabinet,” Settee said.

“I know there are ministers within this cabinet who have been working to learn the truth about how First Nations citizens have been treated in the province of Manitoba, in their effort to move forward with changes to build a stronger province.

“I encourage all Ministers, both new and returning, to continue to engage with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak on the path to reconciliation.”

And as COVID-19 continues to spread in First Nations communities, Settee also urged cabinet members to focus on ways to slow the spread of the virus in order to keep First Nations communities and community members safe.

“First Nations citizens are more likely to be impacted by COVID-19,” Settee said. “We are also disproportionately impacted by chronic health conditions and poverty.

“As we continue to navigate this tiresome pandemic, I’m urging Premier Stefanson and her cabinet to continue focusing on supporting Manitobans of all backgrounds in the fight against COVID-19.”

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said AMC is planning to hold all cabinet members “accountable” to issues that matter to First Nations people and communities.

“The AMC is hopeful that this shuffle will lead to quick, concrete and tangible actions on the Province's reconciliation efforts,” Dumas said in a release. “COVID-19 continues to expose a multitude of First Nations inequities, and the AMC notes that substantive and positive change should not be based on political or ministerial life cycles.

“First Nations will continue to hold the province accountable for the commitments made to First Nations.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.