No apologies please

Retiring provincial Liberal backbencher Dennis Mackay has courted controversy as a result of his contrarian views on aboriginal issues. And he continued that courtship yesterday, during his last speech in the legislature. The following are the highlights.

* Last year, Mr. Mackay was criticized for saying, "I don't believe for a moment that every child that went to a residential school was abused. I think a lot of aboriginal people benefited greatly from the residential school system, but we never hear from them." At the time, Mr. Mackay stood by those comments. And he continued to do so yesterday, reporting he received many phone calls and emails from "a lot of older people who had actually taught in residential schools."

"They said they felt like they had been ostracized by the Canadian people for having dared teach in a residential school," he continued. "They said they felt they were all vultures sitting in trees waiting for aboriginal children to come into the residential school system. That wasn't the case."

As a result, Mr. Mackay said he'd like to thank New Democrat children and family development critic Nicholas Simons for drawing attention to his remarks because they "generated so much positive comment for me from people across Canada."

* Mr. Mackay questioned the Kemess North Mine joint review panel's September 2007 decision to kaibosh that project. "The decision of that three person panel was that the aboriginal cultural and spiritual benefits outweighed the benefits of economic activity in the Kemess North," including the 450 jobs it would have created.

"I wonder what the decision would have been in today's economic situation that we find ourselves in. Do you think they might have said that we should retain those jobs, that we should keep those jobs for the 450 families that depend on the mining industry for their livelihood?

* Mr. Mackay stopped short of criticizing the government's approach to treaty negotiations - but only by an inch. Observing that his colleagues had voted unanimously against the Nisga'a Final Agreement during second reading debate, the backbencher commented, "it's remarkable how it's turned around. Our party supports, with a few exceptions, the treaty process. I'm not one to say that we shouldn't be moving ahead and trying to make life better for our aboriginal people. We need to do that. But it's funny how the balance shifts when you're either sitting in opposition or whether you're in government."

* Mr. Mackay described "the accountability issue with the aboriginal file" as "another not so good thing." The reason: according to the backbencher, "Moneys are given to the aboriginal communities, and a lot of it doesn't get to those that are in need of it. It seems to disappear before it gets down to the level of those people that need it."

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