“People deserve the kind of government that reflects their own values.”

By Dorothy Dobbie

When it comes to values and how they define a person, Brian Pallister sets teamwork above all else. His views on how a team should work explain his style of leadership.

Remember that Brian’s adolescent years were dominated by team sports. He excelled by being part of a team, by listening to his coach and by relying on his teammates.

Brain Pallister
Brain Pallister

He now sees himself as the coach, ready to mete out reward to those who do well, while mentoring and encouraging those who need more attention. This takes some getting used to by the political class, but that is who Brian Pallister is. Understanding this spreads light on many parts of his approach.

Teamwork, in his view, also means collaboration, another bit of an aberration in politics where information is power and is parceled out accordingly. Brian, however, believes that politicians, the private sector, the non-profits and even the unions can get together to make good things happen. It’s a new approach that will no doubt run into some resistance, but if he can bring people into the tent and make them comfortable, then it could be a powerful weapon in reinvigorating Manitoba.

Honesty and integrity are two values Brian Pallister shares with Manitobans. In fact, Brian thinks that honesty is an intrinsically Manitoba trait. Just ask any outsider, he says.

“People from out of province always tell me that Manitobans are so direct – they say what they think,” points out Brian. “They have this natural kind of honesty and come across as being very forthright,” he says.

Honest and direct, he himself certainly is – sometimes more so than his handlers would like. In politics, being forthright can be a liability. Strongly held views will always provoke strong reactions. Moreover, those who speak spontaneously and forthrightly make an easy target for opponents looking to quote snippets of a comment out of context.

Some people, media included, don’t know just what to make of Brian Pallister. He doesn’t quite fit the mold of the typical politician. First of all, he’s very tall. He has a tall beautiful wife and two daughters who reach the same heights and are both talented. And Brian is the source of many conflicting abilities: pianist, star basketball player, math whiz, avid reader, successful businessman and, perhaps last, politician.

He’s a bred-in-the-bone Tory, but a Tory with compassion. And compassion is one of the five pillars that surround his circle of values.

Hard work and compassion

“Manitobans lead the country in charitable donations,” Brian says with pride. “Volunteering is the norm here.” He believes that volunteering and compassionate giving are Manitoba values that hearken back to the early days when helping each other meant the difference between perishing and survival.

That doesn’t make him a socialist; it confirms his roots in the prairie conservative ethic, where every man worked hard for himself but could spare a little for a neighbour in distress. Brian supports the concept of making poverty history, but doing so in a way that elevates rather than suppresses self-reliance.

“You can’t help the needy if you can’t help yourself,” he points out.

Common sense is something else he holds in high esteem. Common sense is exemplified by good fiscal management and wealth building.

In a speech to the Women of Winnipeg, a few days prior to this interview, he put it this way. “This province needs a good financial planner – and here I am.” He was explaining some of the fiscal conundrums a new Manitoba government will have to contend with and how he intends to deal with them. “We need to do a value-for-money audit,” he says, “just to get a handle on where the biggest leakages are.” He doesn’t blame the unions or the public service – he has seen their frustration with the status quo, with the way so many decisions have a political, rather than common sense, bent.

But taxation for the wrong reasons makes him see red (no pun intended).

“Why should a Winnipeg family of four pay $3,500 more in taxes than the same Saskatchewan family? It’s because of things like this that we are losing so many good people,” he says passionately

He is embarrassed and appalled by the statistics that put Manitoba “tenth out of 10” on so many key files; in education, for example, we are at the bottom of the list when it comes to reading, science, math and even basic skills development. “We need systemic changes to the education system,” he says, pointing to just one of the many areas where we have fallen behind the rest of the country.

Motivate the kids

It pains him to hear the story of the bright young student who handed in a test paper with the words, “Donut know and donut care!” scrawled after every question. “Where’s the incentive, the vision that would motivate these kids?” he asks. “Why is it in this province that giving a prize to an achiever is taken as an act of shaming everyone else?”

Brian believes in the value of inclusion. “The future of this province rests on respect for and the success of our indigenous people. Every one of them should have the same opportunity as any other person in this province,” he says emphatically. He knows that when all our people reach their full potential, Manitoba will prosper.

He sees the value in diversified voices contributing to what he calls “deliberative democracy”. “Half of our new candidates are women,” he says with pride.

“People matter,” Brian says.

He applies his common-sense value to such issues as the environment, pointing out that “conservative” and “conserve” come from the same root. He believes we need to apply an intelligent management system to the fishery, that in the matter of water management we’d have been a lot better off as a member of the western trading relationship so we could better deal with Saskatchewan agriculture practices that have affected our own water management.

“There’s nothing wrong with Manitoba that can’t be fixed by Manitobans,” he declares. But there is a lot wrong, he says. “Social services are overburdened. Why should Manitoba have twice the number of children in care as Saskatchewan does?” he asks. The system is clearly sick.

Over the years, the current government has tended to close in. Brian ordered a report on a tendering process through Access to Information and it came back two-thirds blacked out. In fact, tendering has fallen by the wayside with the government.

The government has grown incestuous and lazy, he believes. In a speech to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, he pointed out how expenditures on political staff have burgeoned while ordinary public servants have limped along. He could also have pointed to the fact that droves of former political staffers are being appointed to top positions throughout the province, just one more challenge he will have to deal with if he becomes premier.

He is concerned about the city of Winnipeg and believes there has to be a better way of dealing with its challenges. The first thing to do is to sit down with the mayor and try to work out a funding formula that suits the 21st century. “More than half the province’s population lives in Winnipeg,” he says. “We need to respect that.”

A goal for Manitoba

Brian Pallister offers one more conundrum for political watchers. He is a reader and he finds a lot of wisdom and ideas in the books he reads. One of these is the idea of social impact bonds, a way of “harnessing private capital to achieve measurable gains,” says Harvard Magazine. This social innovation financing allows non-profit organizations to partner with their private sector donors to deliver social services in an efficient and effective manner. This is a major departure from the current government’s practice of taking over and bullying non-profits because some union leaders believe that non-profits and charitable organizations compete with their members for jobs.

So that is Brian Pallister, the coach. He believes in honesty, compassion, common sense, inclusion and, always, teamwork. He values women, diversity, intelligent management of resources, collaboration and balance as well as solid financial management. He promises Manitobans a caring, well-managed province, where every individual will be encouraged to reach their personal and full potential.