On the second last day before leaving his position as Premier of Manitoba, Brian Pallister reached out to confirm a generous, hands-across-the-border accord with our nearest U.S. neighbour. He went to the International Peace Garden, a place of fond memory from his own childhood, to confirm with his North Dakota partner, Governor Doug Burgum, a major donation to the future of the Garden.
The warmth and mutual respect between the two men was very visible. After announcing Manitoba’s $7.5 million grant and North Dakota’s matching funds, the Premier conferred the Order of the Buffalo Hunt on the Governor, remarking as his did so that the first recipient of this honour was Queen Elizabeth II. They laughed over share memories of the Garden. They spoke of the early immunization of truck drivers when North Dakota had more vaccine supply than did our province.
In the audience was the latest addition to the International Peace Garden Board, Leslie Thomas, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and a former chairman of the North Dakota Natïve Tourism Alliance, who sees the value of Indigenous participation in the garden. He presented a reed statue of a teepee to symbolize the friendship of the local indigenous nations with the peace initiative at the Garden. It was a perfect moment of human understanding of the relationship between the premier and Indigenous people, despite the politically inspired uproar over his remarks that people came here to help build a new nation.
Indeed, deliberate misrepresentation of what the premier said or meant was a hallmark of his tenure. No matter what he said or how sincerely he meant what he said, he had a line up of people willing to interpret for him – and sadly, they came from both side of the aisle, and the interpretations were often unfair.
Regardless, a pretty damn fine man has just left Manitoba’s political stage. He did it with sincerity and grace, the way he entered, when his predecessor was in trouble. Brian Pallister was not one to dance on the graves of his opponents. Indeed, he summoned up their bright spots and shone a generous light on them. When Greg Selinger was ousted, Brian Pallister’s speech was warm and congratulatory. Not so was that of Mr. Selinger’s heir, who barely managed to mutter a few begrudging words of farewell. Thus, the difference in approach between the two parties and their leaders, but also in their records.
One of the biggest inside criticisms of the recent Premier was that he didn’t clean house quickly enough. In other words – they felt he should have kicked out all the political appointees who ran (and many still do) the bureaucracy of this province. Nor was he praised for this by his political opponents, who used their insider information to beat him with while they snickered behind their smiling, sheeplike facades because they thought him so easily duped.
I prefer to think that the reason he did not deal with them more severely was his warm heart. Here is a man who could not hold back a tear when speaking of departed loved ones or those who were undergoing trauma. How could he destroy the lives of so many without giving them a chance to prove their merit as non-partisan civil servants? But there were no accolades for this from any side.
So let me pass on a few of his accomplishments. He did what he set out to do: He got the deficit under control, pre-covid. He reduced the pernicious provincial sales tax increases imposed by the NDP. He reformed health care. He initiated the reform of education. He curbed the spending ambitions of Manitoba Hydro. He set in motion initiatives to allow greater autonomy for private business. He gave greater autonomy to municipalities and tried to find a more effective path for the environment. He made many reforms in child and family services. Even some of my NDP friends applauded these much-needed changes, including in the education bill.
Did all these initiatives accomplish everything he wanted? No, but over time, the result will be profound. Rome, as they say, was not built in a single day.
Thank you, Brian. And thank you Esther, for putting up with a spoiled and intolerant electorate for six years. They didn’t deserve you, and that includes many discontented and self-focussed conservatives.
As for the future, we shall see. The new leader will need to be tough in mind and spirit. They will need to selectively complete that housecleaning started by Brian.
The new leader must be able to determine who among their colleagues deserves to be in cabinet, based on merit rather than sycophancy. They will need to dismiss ineffective political servants of both stirpes and replace them with intelligent and effective individuals. And they need to listen and sort out the good advice from the bad.
Most importantly, they will need to articulate a vision that gives us hope and agency rather than pessimism and top-down government-knows-best dependency.
And they need to build on the legacy of their predecessor who gave his all so that this could happen.