Manitoba’s provincial government is now adrift, at the mercy of every gust of political wind and every change in the current. Premier Brian Pallister has announced he will quit and will not seek re-election two years hence. His cabinet ministers have publicly rejected his policy. No one has any way of knowing what the provincial policy will be next month or next year.
With luck, Manitoba will not face urgent problems this fall and winter. Our lame-duck premier has lost his political authority to lead the government and the province. No one currently has authority to take his place.
Graceful exits are hard to do. U.S. President Joe Biden is finding this every day as he tries to withdraw his nation’s military forces from Afghanistan. He and his predecessor gave the world long advance notice of their exit, but it has proved to be disorderly just the same.
So often, the leader is the last one to see the writing on the wall. By the time the leader starts wondering when to go, the answer is — last year.
Now that Mr. Pallister has announced an early departure — he said Monday in Brandon he expects to exit before year’s end — it has come to light that some of his cabinet ministers could not accept his leadership in dealings with Indigenous people. A large segment of his caucus and cabinet have publicly rejected the principle of Bill 64, the Education Modernization Act, aimed at abolishing school boards, though his government has been recommending this bill to the legislature since mid-March.
Mr. Pallister maintained his hold on the party since 2016 on the basis that he won a huge majority in that year’s election, when the public was thoroughly fed up with the former NDP government of Greg Selinger, and again in 2019, while the NDP was still recovering from the Selinger years. Pandemic pressures, however, have taken their toll on public confidence in Mr. Pallister.
He began to look like a man out of his depth. And it seems at least some ministers started conspiring against him behind his back.
Mr. Selinger played it a different way. He took the lead in raising the provincial sales tax, which he had promised not to raise. When colleagues saw he could not win another election, they told him to quit. He refused, called a leadership convention, narrowly won a new coronation by the party, then took the party down to humiliation in the 2016 election.
Mr. Selinger would have been wiser to quit sooner. His party might still have been defeated at the polls, but he would have spared the province from two years of political turmoil and ineffective government.
Mr. Pallister is quitting sooner rather than clinging to office after a cabinet revolt. This may give his successor a chance of avoiding the kind of implosion the NDP suffered in 2016.
Even so, Manitoba is stuck, for the moment, with a premier who holds the reins but has no political authority to use them. The Progressive Conservative Party will have to thrash around through the intricacies of a leadership convention. The winner of that contest will have only a short time at the helm before being compelled to call an election.
Until those steps are completed, our hospitals, our school boards and our government departments will more or less have to run themselves. For the most part, they are quite capable of doing that, but emergencies may arise at any time calling for decisive leadership. The ruling Progressive Conservatives should do all they can to make the interregnum as brief as possible.