Laura Payton, CBC News (Canada), April 6, 2011
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff turfed a Quebec candidate Wednesday after it was revealed the man made disparaging remarks about aboriginal people.
A news release by the NDP earlier Wednesday accused Liberal candidate André Forbes of making disparaging remarks about First Nations and Innu people. The release says he’s a former leader of l’Association des Droits des Blancs, the Association for the Rights of Whites, in Sept-Iles, Que.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Ignatieff said Forbes has been informed he is no longer a Liberal candidate in the eastern Quebec riding of Manicouagan and that his comments “have no place within the Liberal Party of Canada.”
“The Liberal Party of Canada has always stood for equality among all citizens, including First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and non-aboriginal Canadians,” he said. “We categorically condemn any comments that seek to divide Canadians on the basis of their culture or ethnicity.”
Forbes reportedly referred to aboriginal people as “featherheads” in an interview with L’actualité published in October, 2004.
“Do you know how much a featherhead costs?” Forbes is quoted as saying by the article’s author, Jean-Benoît Nadeau.
“That’s the brutal question I was asked by André Forbes, president of the Association for the Rights of Whites of Sept-Îles, in September of 2002, at the height of the controversy surrounding the agreement in principle with the Innu community,” Nadeau wrote.
“For you, it’s 25 grand; for a prisoner, 50 grand; for an Indian; 100 grand,” he quoted Forbes as saying.
In a 2002 story in Le Soleil, the paper reports Forbes said that governments recognized aboriginal rights over those of white people.
“This is heinous politics which brings social tensions, which leads to what is happening in Israel,” the paper reported.
Tough, not racist: Forbes
In an interview with Radio-Canada, Forbes says the comments were tough, not racist. Asked specifically about some of the remarks, Forbes stood by them.
Asked whether he got the Liberal Party into hot water, Forbes said it was the NDP who got the party in trouble.
A spokesman for Ignatieff said the party “undertakes a thorough vetting of all candidates.”
“In the case of Mr. Forbes, it is clear that an error occurred in this vetting process,” Marc Roy said.
NDP calls for Ignatieff apology
Earlier Wednesday, Ignatieff said he was shocked at the remarks, but that candidates deserved a chance to defend themselves.
NDP candidate Thomas Mulcair says it’s totally unacceptable for Ignatieff to have a candidate with a track record like Forbes’s. And he says Ignatieff shouldn’t have been so surprised to find out about the remarks.
“I was in Manicouagan riding earlier this week and everyone up there knows what his history is and what the statements are he’s made in the past,” Mulcair said.
Forbes is now a member of the Cote-Nord Metis council. He joined the federal Liberal riding association in May, 2009, after four years with the provincial Liberals. Forbes was nominated as the federal Liberal candidate in August, 2009.
But Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe says if the reports are true, the remarks are unacceptable.
Forbes’s name was removed from the list of candidates on the Liberal website Wednesday morning.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has ordered an investigation into alleged racist comments made by one of his Quebec candidates, saying, if true, Andre Forbes would be dismissed.
“The reported remarks of this candidate are utterly unacceptable. They do not reflect Liberal values,” Mr. Ignatieff said during a campaign stop in Compton, Que., on Wednesday.
“As soon as I heard that these remarks were made or had been made in the past, I ordered an immediate inquiry. As soon as I find out the facts, we will take decisive action.”
Mr. Forbes, who is Metis and the Liberal candidate for the riding of Manicouagan, made the comments several years ago when he was president of an association for the rights of white people–but they are only now coming back to haunt him after the NDP brought them to light.
A well-known activist for Metis rights in Quebec, Mr. Forbes had suggested nearly a decade ago that he feels aboriginal people are poor workers and are given too much money and land rights from the state.
The New Democrats cited controversial comments Forbes apparently made in the Le Soleil newspaper in March 2002: “We all know that the aboriginals will not keep their jobs . . . I have worked for many years for Gulf Paper of Clarke City, which closed in 1968. Many Montagnais worked there. I only remember one who did a good job. There must have been others hard-working among them, but I don’t recall one name.”
According to the NDP, Forbes also suggested in a letter that was sent to Hydro-Quebec in January 2009 that: “If our Metis community was made of Muslims, homosexuals or of an association of old ladies making moccasins out of caribou skin, would Hydro-Quebec consult with us? Yes.”
Mr. Ignatieff told reporters he was “shocked” by the comments.
“If he really said this, it won’t be possible for him to remain a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada,” the Liberal leader said.
But when reached in Sept-Iles, Que., Christian Turgeon, an official with the Metis organization that Forbes ran, Metis Cote-Nord, said the Liberal candidate only created the “Rights of Whites” organization to attract media attention to the plight of Metis people in the area who felt excluded from negotiations between the government and the Innu.
Mr. Turgeon said Mr. Forbes was stuck in a snowstorm near Labrador and couldn’t be reached for comment.
The Liberal candidate’s office and Metis Cote-Nord share office space.
Mr. Forbes is not the first candidate to have landed in hot water for remarks about aboriginals during this election campaign.
Last week, a Bloc Quebecois MP was forced to apologize for comments he made about his NDP opponent, a prominent Quebec Cree. Yvon Levesque had said some voters would not support Romeo Saganash in Quebec’s largest federal riding, Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, because he is Cree.
In a statement from the Bloc Quebecois’ Montreal headquarters, Mr. Levesque apologized directly to Mr. Saganash, as well as to all of Quebec’s aboriginals.
“My words were totally inappropriate and I retract them,” Mr. Levesque wrote.
Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said the apology ended the matter and he would not ask Mr. Levesque to resign as the party’s candidate.