11/19/2015 04:37 EST | Updated 11/19/2016 05:12 EST

Drew Caldwell, Manitoba NDP Cabinet Minister, Sorry For Calling Tory 'Fascist'

Twitter: drewcaldwell
WINNIPEG — A Manitoba NDP cabinet minister who called a Progressive Conservative member a fascist during a legislature debate says the ensuing outrage has been whipped up by the Opposition.

Municipal Affairs Minister Drew Caldwell apologized to the legislature Thursday, a day after Tory Reg Helwer raised the issue with the Speaker.

"I wish to state that I made a generalized comment in the chamber on Tuesday — which many members do from time to time in the heat of the moment — for which I apologize to the house,'' Caldwell said.

Helwer said he was responding to the government's throne speech on Tuesday when Caldwell heckled him. The remark was not recorded in Hansard, the official record of debate in the house, but Helwer reacted to the comment.

Later Thursday, in an interview with The Canadian Press, Caldwell said the heckle was not directed at Helwer — who was talking about how the government hadn't intervened to end a strike in 2011 at Brandon University — but at the whole right-wing movement in North America.

Caldwell said the comment was manufactured into a personal attack by Conservatives who wrote about it on social media.

"It wasn't an issue. It was a heckle,'' Caldwell said. "It wasn't even on the record. They chose to make it this issue. It's their prerogative to do so, but it's very unusual and the ethics of that need to be questioned.''

Caldwell said he has been called everything from a communist to a lazy socialist in the legislature but hasn't made an issue of it. He also pointed to NDP accusations that Conservative Leader Brian Pallister used the word "retard'' — something Pallister has vehemently denied and which never appeared in Hansard.

"I chose to apologize for the remark,'' Caldwell said. "Their leader chose not to for a far more odious slur in the house.''

In an emotional statement Wednesday, Helwer told the legislature that being called fascist was particularly hurtful. Helwer, who is of German decent, said he heard it on the playground growing up and he shouldn't have to hear it in the house.

Caldwell was at a funeral Wednesday during Helwer's statement. NDP house leader Dave Chomiak apologized on Caldwell's behalf and said the word was reprehensible.

Helwer said he accepted both apologies.

"The comments made by Minister Caldwell were irresponsible, but we'll move on,'' said Helwer, who scoffed at allegations that he manufactured outrage. "It's easy for the NDP to blame other people for their mistakes.

"If the minister would be more careful about what he said, it wouldn't be a problem.''

Premier Greg Selinger said Caldwell won't be disciplined because he apologized quickly and unequivocally.

"It was an unnecessary comment,'' Selinger said. "We see a lot of unfortunate comments in the legislature and it behooves all of us to tone it down, even if it's off the record, and treat each other more respectfully.''


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