By Marco Fortier Friday, April 1, 2011 11:19 – Updated Friday April 1, 2011 16:19
Bloc candidate Yvon Lévesque apologized Friday morning for saying that the origins of Aboriginal NDP candidate Romeo Saganash would make Jack Layton's party lose votes.
"Certain voters will not choose the New Democratic Party (NDP) now that they're running an Aboriginal candidate," said Yvon Lévesque, MP and candidate for the riding of Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou, in an interview Thursday with Rue Frontenac.
Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe ordered Yvon Lévesque to apologize after learning of the MP's comments.
"I offer my sincerest apologies to Romeo Saganash and all Aboriginal people in Quebec that may have been offended by what I said. My words were totally inappropriate and I retract them. I hope my unfortunate declaration will not harm the important advances of Aboriginal communities that the Bloc Québécois has fought for, for years," said Yvon Lévesque in a statement.
According to Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc MP's statement is not racist: he drew a parallel with Alexis Wawanoloath, a former Parti Québécois MP of Aboriginal descent, defeated in 2008. "It is true that there are people who did not vote for Alexis Wawanoloath, who was a friend of Mr. Lévesque. However, it's a bad analysis. Just like we can't say that Mr. Saganash is a Cree and so all Crees will vote for the NDP," said the Bloc leader, touring Quebec.
Reached by Rue Frontenac, Alexis Wawanoloath vigorously defended the MP. "Yvon is clearly not racist. He was the one who got me involved in politics with the Bloc Québécois in 2005," said the former MP of Aboriginal descent, who is now the PQ president for Abitibi-Est.
Despite his "ill-considered" comments towards Romeo Saganash, Yvon Lévesque has "always stood up for First Nations" as evidenced by his career as Bloc MP, says Wawanoloath.
Resignation required by the NDP
NDP Leader Jack Layton has asked Gilles Duceppe to dismiss his MP and candidate. "He said people in the riding are racist because they won't vote for an Aboriginal candidate," added Romeo Saganash in an interview with Rue Frontenac.
The NDP candidate, who has been working for the Grand Council of the Crees since 1989, acknowledges that the Bloc MP has worked closely with communities in the region. Yvon Lévesque is involved in the charge against the Harper government to improve the federal assistance program to northern communities struggling with skyrocketing food prices.
"Yes, he has worked with Aboriginal people. Some Crees voted for him. But his statement has outraged people. The damage is done among Aboriginal people," said Romeo Saganash.
The relationship between "pure laine" Abitibi people and Aboriginal people has improved in recent years, says Saganash. This is a crucial issue in the riding of Abitibi-James Bay- Nunavik-Eeyou, which has a high proportion of Cree, Inuit and Algonquin.
Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec, harshly criticized the comments made by the Bloc MP. "It reminds me of Jacques Parizeau's outburst on money and ethnic votes after the 1995 referendum," said Mr. Picard to Rue Frontenac.
"It's the kind of statement that people associate with the person for a long time. This has not gone unnoticed among First Nations of Quebec," he added.
With the collaboration of Yves Chartrand in Quebec.