"Compassion and generosity."
As manifestations of common decency go, these would rank alongside the traditional theological virtues of faith, hope and charity — traits we should aspire to display in our variously stressed daily doings.
They’re the sort of qualities we hope to see our chosen leaders demonstrate, and encourage — by both deeds and words — the public to embrace. And they’re courtesies we all hope to be granted in our moments of weakness and doubt.
It was curious, however, to observe the manner in which Premier Brian Pallister this week chose, ostensibly in the interest of charitable good will, to beseech Manitobans to temper their reaction to recent unsettling events.
At issue, of course, were the decisions by some politicians and government officials to flout stay-at-home recommendations by travelling outside the province during the holidays. While stating he was "clearly not pleased" by the wayward wanderings of members of his government cluster, Mr. Pallister said the MLA who took a westbound road trip and political staffers who ventured to eastern Canada will not be disciplined for their actions.
No sanctions will be imposed on Radisson MLA James Teitsma, Mr. Pallister explained, because "he’s not a cabinet member" and the premier "can’t remove him from a cabinet he’s not a member of." Apparently, removal from cabinet represents the sum total of disciplinary actions available to the leader of the provincial government.
And when it came to decisions by Clerk of the Executive Council David McLaughlin, the province’s chief bureaucrat, and senior communications officer Logan-Theanna Ross to travel outside Manitoba, the premier defended his no-sanctions response with the aforementioned plea for kid-gloves kindness.
Mr. McLaughlin, the PC Party’s former campaign manager and a trusted adviser to the premier, should be cut some extra advisory-flouting slack because he works for Manitoba but his family resides elsewhere, the premier suggested. Government officials have also defended the travel by stating Mr. McLaughlin was working remotely while out of the province, not simply enjoying festive family time.
"When we talk of someone who lives in Winnipeg whose wife and children live in another part of the country and they can work from home for a few days in isolation, carefully, I don’t know that we should be judging them harshly," Mr. Pallister intoned.
One can’t help wondering how this week’s call for grace and understanding meshes with Mr. Pallister’s earlier inclination to name, blame and shame various non-governmental "idiots" who have contravened public-health guidelines during the pandemic. Compassion and generosity seemed notably absent, for instance, in the premier’s public castigation of a rural hotelier for breaking public-health orders — an accusation the business owner promptly and emphatically denied.
One might ask where compassion and generosity factor into Mr. Pallister’s dealings with Manitoba’s nurses, front-line stalwarts throughout the pandemic who have been working without a fairly negotiated union contract since 2017.
And one might be inclined to wonder how the premier’s plea for understanding of his closest adviser’s familial plight might be received by the legions of rule-respecting Manitobans who have been unable to visit loved ones — in many cases, denied a last visit to offer a final embrace to an in-care elder — and whose holiday celebrations were torn asunder by COVID-19-related grief.
In that broader context, it’s difficult to perceive the premier’s targeted plaintive defence as purely benevolent. Perhaps Mr. Pallister might want to exercise a couple of other classical virtues — prudence and justice — rather than blithely offering his inner circle blanket immunity from consequence.