NDP says Kenney should fire speechwriter who called residential schools 'bogus genocide story'
EDMONTON -- Alberta's NDP caucus wants Premier Jason Kenney to fire his speechwriter for an essay he published in 2013 that questions the impact of residential schools.
Paul Bunner's article was published in the C2C Journal, an online conservative magazine focused on political, cultural and economic issues.
"The 'Genocide' That Failed" piece suggests the portrayal of residential schools is flawed and has been used by Indigenous people to negotiate compensation and political autonomy from the Canadian government.
"The bogus genocide story of the Canadian Aboriginal residential schools system is an insult to all of us, Native and non-Native, dead or alive, who are justifiably proud of the peaceful, tolerant, pluralistic history and values of our great country," Bunner wrote.
The NDP Opposition want Kenney to fire Bunner and apologize to Albertans.
“It is painful to read something as profoundly racist as the words Mr. Bunner wrote and published,” Leader Rachel Notley said in a written release. “I am deeply troubled that Jason Kenney selected someone who holds these views to be one of his closest collaborators in the Premier’s Office."
Questioned about the essay in a Thursday news conference on disaster relief, Kenney didn't say what action, if any, would be taken to address the criticism.
“I haven’t had a chance to read the article. I’ve seen excerpts and I fundamentally disagree with those statements… I imagine that somebody who was a journalist for 40 years will have written things that I disagree with, that others may find offensive," he commented.
Kenney went on to reread a statement he made last week in the legislative assembly about the intergenerational impact of residential schools.
Kenney added he was not aware of Bunner's views when he was hired as the premier's speechwriter last year, but that he has since been told Bunner's essay was a news story previously.
"I speak for the Government of Alberta as I did in my remarks about Indian Residential Schools in the assembly a week ago today very clearly, and as I’ve done consistently in our government’s approach to reconciliation — more than that, reconcili-action.”
Gabrielle Lindstrom’s grandparents attended residential schools. She now teaches at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“It is absolutely a slap in the face and I think it’s totally disappointing. It’s absolutely horrifying that we have a leader in government who has people like this on his payroll,” she said.
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt says this situation could test Kenney's loyalty.
"Bunner is not known to the public but he is prominent in conservative circles," Bratt said. "He's got bonafide conservative credentials but this is damaging to Kenney."
He said the premier has a mixed record on Indigenous reconciliation, and Bunner's essay resurfacing now – while movements in support of Indigenous people and Black Lives Matter continue – make his response even more challenging.
Bunner worked in former prime minister Stephen Harper's office for three years beginning in 2006. He also worked at the conservative magazine The Report before that.
On Friday, the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations demanded Bunner's resignation.
"In 2020, it is the highest disgrace for any government staff to disparage from one of the greatest tragedies in our history and openly criticize the Indian Residential School Survivor’s as activists” with “never ending demands”. It is even more dehumanizing to call the children of Indian Residential School Survivors “potentially violent” or “ripe recruits” being “indoctrinated” for learning the truth of the harm that was caused by the Indian Residential School Policy."