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Premier Brian Pallister gestures during question period in the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg on April 7, 2021.

Kevin King/The Canadian Press

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister apologized Tuesday for comments he made almost a month earlier that angered Indigenous leaders and cost him a cabinet minister.

“I wish my words in speaking to Manitobans at this difficult time had been said differently so they could have been understood better,” Mr. Pallister said in a press release.

“My words did not adequately convey all that I meant, which I sincerely regret.”

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On path to reconciliation, most important apologies will happen between Canadians, Chief says

Mr. Pallister said he takes responsibility for having caused the misunderstanding July 7, when he denounced people who had toppled two statues on the legislature grounds in a protest over the deaths of Indigenous children at residential schools.

Mr. Pallister said people who came to Canada – before and after it was a country – did not come to destroy but to build communities, businesses and churches.

Indigenous leaders have said the Premier downplayed the harmful effects of colonialism, and Mr. Pallister initially stood by his comments. He said he meant to convey that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people often worked together to build Canada.

His Indigenous relations minister, Eileen Clarke, resigned from cabinet. Her replacement, Alan Lagimodiere, stirred up more controversy by defending some of the intentions behind residential schools. He later apologized.

Two Indigenous men, saying the government was rewriting history, resigned from their government appointments to economic development boards.

Some members of the Progressive Conservative caucus have also distanced themselves from Mr. Pallister’s remarks, and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman last week called on the Premier to say he is sorry.

On Tuesday, Mr. Pallister spoke to the media for the first time in almost three weeks and took back his remarks.

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“I feel awful about the reaction and the misunderstanding I created with my comments,” he said during the news conference about COVID-19 restrictions.

Mr. Pallister also said his words were misrepresented as support for colonialism or residential schools.

“I should have been clearer in my comments but my heart was in the right place.”

Mr. Pallister’s Tories have dropped sharply in recent opinion polls and he is now facing signs of dissent from some of his caucus members. Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard posted on social media last month that she could not support words that hurt people affected by trauma.

Mr. Pallister has hinted he may retire from politics before the next election in 2023. When asked by a reporter Tuesday whether he plans to leave office in the coming months, he did not directly answer.

“You’ll be among the first to know if that’s the decision.”

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