WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives came under fire Monday for taking out a newspaper ad that highlights, in part, the province's decision to not search a landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women.
The full-page ad, on Saturday in the Winnipeg Free Press, touts the governing Tories' promises on a few issues including tax cuts and violent crime. On the decision to not search the Prairie Green Landfill, the words "Stand Firm" appear in large text. In smaller font is the phrase: "For health and safety reasons, the answer on the landfill dig just has to be no."
Marc Miller, a former minister of Crown-Indigenous relations who was shifted to immigration, refugees and citizenship in July, expressed disappointment.
"You know that I considered the decision (to not search the landfill) to be heartless in nature," Miller told reporters in Ottawa.
"It came to my attention last night when I was reading it, and it just seemed on top of being heartless, that it was cruel."
The current minister of Crown-Indigenous relations called the situation "heart-wrenching."
"While we are looking at potential next steps to supporting the search, we encourage all partners to come to the table and work collaboratively with us, including the government of Manitoba, as addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls requires collaboration across all levels of government and must not be politicized," said Gary Anandasangaree.
The president of the Native Women's Association of Canada said she was outraged, and said the Tories appeared to be campaigning on the issue.
"We have made some progress in terms of reconciliation, and to me, with them campaigning on issue like that, it's just going to set back reconciliation some steps," Carol McBride said.
Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the Tories took out the ad because the public and the media continue to have questions about why the provincial government refused to conduct the search.
"Government advised the families of what the decision was based on safety, communicated that out, and I don't think there was an intention to have much more communication about it after that," Goertzen said.
"It's become an issue in the campaign that people are asking about at the door, and (they) want to hear the position of the parties on it, and so we're providing that information."
NDP Leader Wab Kinew accused the Tories of being divisive.
"I don't think it's appropriate for a political party to use other Manitobans as a political prop."
The remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to have been dumped in the Prairie Green Landfill, a private operation north of Winnipeg, last year.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in their deaths, as well as in the killings of Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found last year at a different landfill, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.
Premier Heather Stefanson said in July the province would not support a search of Prairie Green. She pointed to a federally funded study that said a search is feasible but would have no guarantee of success.
Workers would require special protection against asbestos and other toxic hazards, and a search could take up to three years at a cost of up to $184 million, the study said.
Protest camps have been set up near a city-run landfill and beside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to demand the government change its mind.
Kinew has promised to have Prairie Green searched if his party wins the Oct. 3 election. Stefanson challenged him on the promise in a televised debate last week, saying a search could lead to workers getting cancer and other health problems.
— with files from Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2023.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press