“Democracy Works Best When We Take Ownership & Get Involved.” – PC Party Fires Staffer For #MMIW Blog Post

Screenshot (brianpallister.com)
Brian Pallister (brianpallister.com)

The controversial issue regarding the debate for a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW) just grew another layer.

It seems the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party has added to the intrigue by firing Spencer Fernando, a PC caucus staffer who published a “pro” National Inquiry blog post.

Winnipeg Free Press journalist Dan Lett covered the story in an article titled, “Firing Young PC Staffer Over Blog Wasn’t Smart.” Lett writes, “Firing a young staffer for offering heartfelt support for an inquiry seems to be pretty immature. Particularly since Pallister has done everything he can to avoid taking a position on an inquiry.”

Pallister isn’t the only politician who’s been avoiding the issue.

Most of the #wpg14 candidates have been conspicuous in their reluctance to take a position regarding the controversial issue.

So Why the Reluctance?

When it comes to issues affecting the Aboriginal Community most Federal, Provincial and Civic politicians would rather leap from a tall building than commit to a position on an issue, and that’s a shame.

It’s a shame because there’s plenty of information out there to help people form an opinion.

It’s a shame when a socially conscious young man loses his job for having the clarity and courage to depart from the politically ambiguous culture surrounding him.  The firing is disturbing on many levels….

  • It’s disturbing because most “20 somethings,” as Lett refers to Fernando, are indifferent to politics and lack the social awareness required to voice an opinion on a topical issue that affects our Country.
  • It’s disturbing because the strength of any organization, company or political party lies in the fertile minds of the people who make up that organization, company or political party.
  • It’s disturbing because the firing is demonstrative of an intolerant organization operating with an oppressive heavy hand.  A heavy hand the power brokers are using to stifle and control people and ideas.

Believe me when I tell you I know what that feels like.

The PC Party had options when it came to Fernando.

If they found the blog post so incredibly offensive why didn’t someone, in authority, sit the young man down and discuss it.  This was a learning opportunity squandered in favour of a different kind of life lesson.

Fernando’s post should have inspired healthy debate which may have resulted in a deeper understanding of the plight of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

A Missed Opportunity to Advance the Conversation;

In his article Fernando makes certain assertions and arrives at conclusions he suggests merit a National Inquiry into the #MMIW issue.

Point > Counterpoint;

SF “There may be some who worry that a public inquiry will turn up things that cast a negative light on our history as a nation. It takes courage and strength to face our past in an open and honest way.”

  • Those who have adopted an “anti” inquiry position have many reasons for forming their opinion.  Fear of turning up things that “cast a negative light on our history” isn’t one of them. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 as part of a 1.9 billion dollar settlement that acknowledges and confronts the negative aspects of our history.  Most people on the “anti” inquiry side are in favour of a National Strategy or Task Force not a National Inquiry.  The urgent need for action is a primary consideration.

SF “The fact is that this is an ongoing problem.  So it’s not enough to investigate deaths after they happen.  We need to find a way to prevent the deaths from happening and an inquiry could help achieve that goal.”

  • When it comes to the murder of Aboriginal Women the RCMP National Report provided us with the kind of critical information that would make a National Inquiry nothing more than a politically correct superfluous exercise.  The RCMP report removes much of the mystery that surrounded the issue of #MMIW.  The report identified a long list of risk factors associated to the killings and identified the suspect pool and motives for the crimes.  Analysis of this data (Task Force) and the implementation of prevention based action plans (National Strategy) is the next logical step that needs to be taken.

SF “A public inquiry would accomplish something else of importance as well. It would send a clear message that the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is seen as worthy of national attention.”

  • The issue of #MMIW has received a tremendous amount of National and International attention.  The RCMP recently completed the most in-depth analysis ever completed regarding the issue.  It’s clear, the Country and the Canadian people are aware of the issue and are desirous of some form of action.  The issue has garnered the attention of the Prime Minister of Canada and the Premiers from every Province.  Acquiescing to calls for a National Inquiry is not the only way to demonstrate the issue is of National importance.

SF “I believe that Canada will not achieve our full potential until all who live within our borders feel respected and valued, and feel like an equal part of our Canadian family.”

  • Respect, equality and Justice for all….a sentiment I’m sure the majority of Canadians share.

SF “A public inquiry would be an important step along the road to healing, and greater security for all. That is why I support a public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.”

  • How do you have a National Inquiry into the singular issue of #MMIW when Aboriginal people in this Country also struggle with over-representation in the Criminal Justice system, Federal and Provincial Corrections, Criminal Street Gangs and the Child Welfare System.  A National Inquiry into #MMIW would have to recognize these other issues and include them in their examination of the collective Canadian Aboriginal experience.  The broad scope of such an Inquiry could easily take five (5) – ten (10) years to complete.  That reality is a significant factor in the minds of “anti” inquiry advocates.

National Inquiry or National Strategy (Task Force)

A recent Police Insider poll showed the majority of people prefer a National Strategy vs a National Inquiry.

“I don’t believe they are (mutually) exclusive,” said Winnipeg City Councillor Dan Vandal who weighed into the argument on my Facebook page.  Vandal’s opinion is shared by Nahanni Fontaine, Special Advisor to the Manitoba Government on Aboriginal Issues, who recently debated the issue with me on an episode of InFocus on APTN (The Aboriginal People’s Television Network).

My concern is, how inclined would any Government or Social Agency be to implement a strategy or programming with a National Inquiry running in the background?  I suspect any such agency would be extremely hesitant to take any meaningful action without the benefit of the findings of the ongoing Inquiry.

As I sat in the APTN studio listening to Nahanni Fontaine advance her pro Inquiry position, I couldn’t help but think about all the at risk Aboriginal Women and Girls I could undoubtedly find no less than five blocks from where I was sitting.  “How many more will die waiting for people to get off their asses and do something?” I wondered to myself.

Back to Spencer Fernando…..

According to Dan Lett, Fernando isn’t taking his firing “personally,” and that’s a good thing.

He should hold his head high and know he did nothing wrong.

He expressed his opinion and demonstrated his concern for his fellow citizens.

That’s about as Canadian as you can get.

PC Leader Brian Pallister and his axe man, Chief of Staff James White could learn something from him.

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  1. I see the issue here as one of dealing with dissent rather than of determining a position on the value of an MMIW inquiry. Epic fail for Pallister and the PCs. This is not how leaders should function in a democratic environment.

  2. Great post.
    An inquiry would be lip service. And you hit the nail on the head with regard to over-representation of aboriginals in other facets of the broad at-risk spectrum. It’s a huge factor in the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. Nobody seems to want to connect those dots. It’s a huge conversation that somebody needs to start. It’s a shame that it looks won’t be the PC party who takes that first step.

  3. A disclaimer: I have known Spencer Fernando personally a very long time. As a close friend and schoolmate of my oldest son, he has been a frequent visitor in my home over the past 15 years or so. I guess you could say, I’ve watched him grow up. Spencer and I have had many, many conversations in that time about politics and the social condition. While we have not always seen eye to eye (and still don’t, sorry Spencer), I will say this: you will not find anywhere, regardless of political affiliation, a more thoughtful, caring and clear-sighted young thinker. He has a maturity of perspective uncommon for any age. If he does not represent the future of the PC Party in Manitoba, then I fear they have no future. When I found out he was seeking a nomination for the upcoming provincial election, I was genuinely excited that someone like him might find a real voice in provincial politics. After all, we don’t all have to agree all the time. What we are missing, and what we desperately need is the kind of civil discourse across the entire political spectrum that young people like Spencer champion, to find that common ground we can build upon. Shame on you Brian Pallister, shame on you. Your cause to dismiss someone like this, who has always been a true and loyal follower, a dedicated worker for your party, is obtuse at best and a disgraceful abuse of your power as leader. If this is how you treat someone from your own tent, then heaven help the rest of us should you ever take office as premier. I will be rooting for anyone else. Regardless how you feel about an inquiry, I would urge everyone to take a lesson here about what lies at the frigid heart of the PC Party of Manitoba.

    Thanks for taking up the story James.

    Darrell Horn

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