Premier Brian Pallister can’t catch a break. No matter what he does, or what decisions he makes about the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s always wrong. At least that was the premier’s assessment Wednesday during another one of his why-doesn’t-anyone-like-me news conferences.
"I haven’t read a report for a long time about anybody saying 'great job Brian, that was a nice decision you made,'" said Pallister, complaining as he often does about "unfair" media coverage.
No matter what he decides when it comes to reopening the economy, he said, the media always finds fault. The reopening is either too fast or too slow. They never report that he got it right, he said.
"I haven’t read a report for a long time about anybody saying 'great job Brian, that was a nice decision you made.'" — Premier Brian Pallister
"Pretty much everybody disagrees with me on these things," Pallister lamented.
It bothers him a lot. Pallister claimed during the news conference he has "thick skin," that he can withstand the criticism that goes with the job of being premier. He doesn’t. He takes criticism — any criticism, no matter how constructive — like he's been turned down for a date at the prom.
That’s problematic when holding high office. When a politician needs that much external validation, that much reassurance from the people around him, it can blur judgment. It usually means they’re in politics for the wrong reasons. Elected office isn’t the place to be to heal deep-seated self-esteem problems. It’s not a support club.
What Pallister has never been able to understand throughout his political career is that elected office isn’t about the individual, it’s about the greater good. You're there to serve the public. If you get into politics because you want to be comforted and loved, you’re in the wrong business. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Decisions made by premiers are, and should be, subject to the highest level of scrutiny. They make decisions on behalf of society, in some cases life-altering ones. They are given a tremendous amount of power. Along with that power comes the responsibility to justify policy choices. The public has a right to critique those decisions. Pallister sees that as a personal attack.
In politics, criticism goes with the territory. When premiers get it wrong, they are held accountable for their decisions. If they can’t handle that, politics isn’t for them. When they get it right, as Pallister has sometimes, they get the credit they deserve. They should accept it humbly and move on. (Just for the record, Pallister is wrong: he has received plenty of credit; it’s been handed out in this column many times).
What Pallister has never been able to understand throughout his political career is that elected office isn’t about the individual, it’s about the greater good. You're there to serve the public.
People who do well in politics understand they’re not always going to get it right; they know they have to take the good with the bad. They learn from their mistakes, admit when they are wrong, consider diverse opinions and take advice from others. Not being the smartest person in the room, or not having all the answers, doesn’t bother them. They excel because they draw from the wisdom and experience around them. They check their egos and personal feelings at the door and they make informed, dispassionate decisions for the good of society. They don’t whine publicly about their hurt feelings and turn news conferences into therapy sessions. That’s not the kind of statesmanship the public is looking for — especially during a crisis.
Pallister’s approval rating has hit rock bottom because he makes himself unlikeable. He’s almost always on the attack, frequently blaming others for his own mistakes and seems to be in a perpetual state of war. It’s unappealing. People want enlightenment and adulthood from their leaders, not adolescence.
The premier probably only has a few months left in his political career before he sets off into the Costa Rican sunset. If he wants to elevate his approval rating before he leaves (and not destroy his party’s chances at winning the next election) he should try to think less about himself and concentrate more on making good decisions for Manitobans. That means realizing the world doesn’t revolve around him.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.