INTERNATIONAL PEACE GARDEN — In his last public appearance as Manitoba premier, Brian Pallister said he is stepping down in order to maintain the unity of his PC party, while insisting he wasn't pushed out of the role.

INTERNATIONAL PEACE GARDEN — In his last public appearance as Manitoba premier, Brian Pallister said he is stepping down in order to maintain the unity of his PC party, while insisting he wasn't pushed out of the role.

"It's an emotional day for me; it's the last event I'll do as premier of Manitoba," Pallister said at the International Peace Gardens at the Canada-U.S. border south of Boissevain, where he unveiled provincial funds to maintain the site.

Pallister had announced Aug. 10 he would eventually retire as premier, but said over the weekend that he’d be formally stepping down Wednesday.

"Because I've been such a hands-on leader for party operations, it would then not be a big stretch to think that I might be involving myself in a leadership contest, which I am not," the premier said, in response to questions from the Free Press.

Before Pallister resigned, members of his own cabinet distanced themselves from comments he made in early July about colonizers having good motives when they settled Canada. The premier eventually apologized for his phrasing after angry Indigenous leaders described his comments as racist.  (Matt Goerzen/The Brandon Sun)

Before Pallister resigned, members of his own cabinet distanced themselves from comments he made in early July about colonizers having good motives when they settled Canada. The premier eventually apologized for his phrasing after angry Indigenous leaders described his comments as racist. (Matt Goerzen/The Brandon Sun)

"Accusations have already been made that I'm favouring one or another candidate; they're false, but they're being made, and they'll continue to be made. That misunderstanding can be very hurtful (for the caucus)."

Having an unstable PC party would hurt all Manitobans, Pallister said.

"With that party being the government of Manitoba, I do not want to, in any shape or form, contribute to any divisiveness within caucus," he said.

Before Pallister resigned, members of his own cabinet distanced themselves from comments he made in early July about colonizers having good motives when they settled Canada. The premier eventually apologized for his phrasing after angry Indigenous leaders described his comments as racist.

Tory MLAs were also voicing opposition to the controversial education reform Bill 64. It became clear how many Tories disliked the bill when when former health minister Heather Stefanson announced Aug. 18 she’d be seeking leadership of the Progressive-Conservatives.

More than a dozen of her fellow MLAs cheered when she announced she’d scrap that bill, including Education Minister Cliff Cullen, who had spent months defending the legislation.

University of Manitoba political scientist Christopher Adams said Pallister might have been able to compel his caucus to stand together if his government had been more popular.

Pushback harmful, premier says

Two Tory backbenchers who accused their own government of infringing on Manitobans' rights last Friday have only undermined cabinet’s attempt to control COVID-19 through vaccination mandates, outgoing Premier Brian Pallister said Monday.

Two Tory backbenchers who accused their own government of infringing on Manitobans' rights last Friday have only undermined cabinet’s attempt to control COVID-19 through vaccination mandates, outgoing Premier Brian Pallister said Monday.

“I'm certainly not favourable to comments that reflect badly on the decisions that cabinet has made,” the premier told reporters.

“There's no opportunity without unity.”

Last week, Manitoba announced it was restricting some privileges and certain forms of front-line public-service jobs to vaccinated people.

In a public letter, Radisson MLA James Teitsma seemingly compared that vaccine mandate to residential schools and the forced sterilization of Indigenous people.

Borderland MLA Josh Guenter also posted that his own government is "using a sledgehammer" that will send Mennonites "to the breadline," as they will quit front-line jobs rather than be vaccinated.

“You were elected to be part of a team of (the) government, so don't start impersonating the opposition, because you're actually hurting your colleagues when you do that,” Pallister said.

University of Manitoba political scientist Christopher Adams said it’s possible the PC caucus will vote to expel those MLAs, given that Pallister is resigning and the party isn’t set to choose a leader until late October.

“If there's a caucus member that is embarrassing the party, the caucus might throw him out, so it might not be up to the new premier,” Adams said.

—Dylan Robertson

"It's hard to believe those small cracks were going to disappear when we know the polls had (their support) pretty low," said Adams, who is rector of St. Paul's College.

"It's hard to rally your caucus if some of them feel that their job is in jeopardy, and I'm sure they were hearing from their constituents."

Party sources say MLAs had been facing pushback for months over COVID-19, with some angry after the health system buckled during the disastrous second and third waves, while others faced constituents deeming the restrictions to be too onerous.

That division came to light last week when two MLAs objected to the province’s plan to implement a vaccine mandate for the public service.

Pallister was evasive when asked about the state of his caucus.

"I'll let others talk about rumours," he said.

Among that hearsay was a push by some Tory MLAs to have the premier resign or face a vote of non-confidence ahead of his resignation.

The premier, who turned 67 in July, insisted Monday that he chose to leave, as it was the right time for him personally.

"I've been in politics for three decades, and there is no easy time for a person to make this decision," he said.

Yet NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the premier seemed distracted by the internal party drama.

"I think it’s very clear that Mr. Pallister has already been checked out of his job for a long time," Kinew said, arguing the premier didn't want to oversee another wave of COVID-19 as school resumes.

"Mr. Pallister is yelling ‘abandon ship’ at a time when we’re heading into another critical moment for the pandemic," Kinew said.

"He’s leaving because of his own personal feelings. He can’t get his way with his caucus any more; he’s not getting praised by Manitobans."

Adams said Pallister was likely throwing in the towel as sustained criticism took a personal toll.

"I think he had had enough," he said. "The MLAs were not having a fun time, and I know the premier was not having a fun time, either. The premier was being hammered every day."

As for the premier’s legacy, Adams noted that prime minister Brian Mulroney left office in 1993 with widespread unpopularity, but is now remembered for environmental initiatives, free trade and pushing South Africa to end apartheid.

Former premier Gary Filmon left office in 2000, a year after stepping down as premier under the cloud of hallway medicine and the vote-splitting scandal, but not all Manitobans think of either as his main legacy, Adams said.

Pallister could eventually be known as a premier who undertook difficult financial and health reforms that ultimately helped the province recover from the pandemic, he said.

"His name is mud, among many Manitoba voters, but over time... there will be those who say he balanced the budget before we got into the pandemic."

 

Pallister’s Fort Whyte riding will likely have a byelection soon. The premier said he will stay on for a few weeks to tidy up constituency affairs, but did not see himself sitting in the legislature when it resumes in October.

Afterwards, Pallister said he plans to go hiking with his wife outside the province and do more reading, but maintain some sort of role in community work or scholarships.

"I've done my best to create an opportunity for people who are honest, hardworking, principled people to move ahead in life," he said.

"Politics has been fascinating, and it's a mile wide and an inch deep, a lot of the time."

With files from Carol Sanders

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca