Opinion

The rumours of Paul Beauregard's demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Email inboxes and phone lines were burning-hot Thursday morning with the news that Treasury Board Secretary Beauregard — arguably the most powerful bureaucrat in the Manitoba government and the point man for the province's pandemic response — had resigned his post while the province is still very much in the grips of a public-health crisis.

The rumours of Paul Beauregard's demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Email inboxes and phone lines were burning-hot Thursday morning with the news that Treasury Board Secretary Beauregard — arguably the most powerful bureaucrat in the Manitoba government and the point man for the province's pandemic response — had resigned his post while the province is still very much in the grips of a public-health crisis.

Beauregard is a controversial figure who been caught up in a scrap with the Opposition NDP over allegations he was improperly involved in the awarding of a contract to Bell MTS, his former employer. The political battle prompted Beauregard to file an unprecedented harassment and bullying complaint against an NDP MLA.

Pallister's trusted adviser signals his departure

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MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES						</p>																	<p>Paul Beauregard has given notice he will leave his role as Treasury Board secretary once his replacement is found.						</p>
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Paul Beauregard has given notice he will leave his role as Treasury Board secretary once his replacement is found.

Posted: 5:41 PM Jan. 14, 2021

A powerful figure with a hand in most important files in Premier Brian Pallister's government is on his way out — eventually.

Paul Beauregard has given notice he will leave his role as Treasury Board secretary once his replacement is found.

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But even with all of Beauregard's baggage and the myriad problems with Manitoba's pandemic response, changing leadership mid-crisis would be a horrible blow to a government already suffering from a deficit in public confidence.

If true. Which it isn't. Not quite.

It turns out that an ill-fated effort to answer questions about Beauregard's employment status with a perfunctory and opaque written statement left an impression that Beauregard had, in fact, resigned and was leaving government imminently. News reports immediately connected that decision to the Bell MTS contract controversy.

However, two facts became abundantly clear as Thursday unfolded: first, Beauregard had not resigned; and as a result of the first fact, there was really no connection to the Bell MTS contract story.

Government sources confirmed that Beauregard sent an email to his staff at the Treasury Board Secretariat this week announcing that he plans to step down from his post at some point, when the pandemic and the vaccine program, are well in hand to pursue opportunities in the private sector.

Although his intentions were reasonable, the decision to send that email only to people working at TBS created a dilemma for political staff in the premier's office, who were not in the loop but were deluged with requests for comment.

Eventually, Communications Services Manitoba — the agency within government that handles departmental communications (rather than ministerial communications) — issued a statement that really did nothing to dispel the idea that Beauregard had resigned.

"The Secretary will continue in his current role until a replacement is found and, along with hundreds of other public servants, will continue to support the work of Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine task force," the statement read. While not strictly untrue, it really doesn't tell enough of the real story to be considered accurate.

Where does that leave Beauregard and the pandemic response? He continues to oversee all aspects, including the distribution of vaccines, now and for the foreseeable future. A senior government source said that Beauregard has assured everyone that there will be no "sudden departure" and that he "isn't going anywhere, anytime soon."

After much prodding, Beauregard issued a statement later in the day confirming that while he had "provided advance working notice" of his intention to leave, he will not depart until "my work is complete in helping the Vaccine Implementation Task Force."

This was a pretty simple matter that could have been easily handled by disclosing a few salient facts. Instead, thanks to a badly written statement, Beauregard and the government he works for had to endure an entire day where people thought he was running from his job to escape a scandal.

The misdirection on this story also diverted attention away from a more fascinating angle; Beauregard and his boss, Premier Brian Pallister, have offered eerily similar descriptions of their intentions to leave government.

Notwithstanding his chronic coyness, Pallister told reporters in year-end interviews he had no intention of leaving politics until COVID-19 was largely under control.

"I'm committed to seeing (the pandemic) through," he told the Canadian Press.

Although just as vague as the canned statement on Beauregard's future, Pallister's admission piqued already rampant speculation about his future. The premier's popularity has plummeted along with his government's public support, which had fed the idea that he will get out of politics long before the next election.

And in many ways, it's not surprising that Beauregard — Pallister's right-hand in all matters fiscal — would be thinking about ending his career in the public service around the same time that the premier was considering a departure from politics.

Of all those involved in forging the government's response to the health crisis, Pallister and Beauregard are the most vulnerable to post-pandemic reviews.

It's not clear what kind of review will be conducted; Pallister has resisted calls to launch a full-blown, independent investigation but Manitoba's auditor general has pledged to conduct a series of audits of pandemic activities.

Either way, it's unlikely the results of those reviews are going to be flattering for the Tory government in general, and Pallister and Beauregard in particular.

So, for better or worse, both men remain in their current jobs for the foreseeable future. Perhaps just long enough to make up for past shortcomings in the pandemic response and write a more flattering final chapter for each of their careers in government.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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