Opinion

Do as I say, not as I do.

Of all the mistakes leaders and high-profile politicians are prone to make, the propensity to say one thing and do the exact opposite has to be among the most maddening.

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Do as I say, not as I do.

Of all the mistakes leaders and high-profile politicians are prone to make, the propensity to say one thing and do the exact opposite has to be among the most maddening.

The public looks to leaders for advice on what to do and examples of how to behave. When leaders do not heed their own advice, it erodes trust and confidence until — quite frankly — they cease to function as leaders.

Manitoba provides an acute recent case in point.

Three members of the Progressive Conservative government — one MLA and two senior advisers — travelled outside the province in defiance of urgings from Premier Brian Pallister and public health officials to stay home to guard against spreading COVID-19.

The Tory government confirmed MLA James Teitsma (Radisson) and his family took an extended holiday season car trip and visited Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C.

Three members of the Progressive Conservative government — one MLA and two senior advisers — travelled outside the province in defiance of urgings from Premier Brian Pallister to stay home to guard against spreading COVID-19.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

Three members of the Progressive Conservative government — one MLA and two senior advisers — travelled outside the province in defiance of urgings from Premier Brian Pallister to stay home to guard against spreading COVID-19.

David McLaughlin, clerk of the executive council, was given two weeks leave in December to travel to Ontario to be with family, while the province's director of strategic communications and marketing, Logan-Theanna Ross, travelled to eastern Canada over the holiday season.

A spokesman for the government said Teitsma and his family did not visit with anyone during their trip, and McLaughlin was not on "vacation" when he visited Ontario, where he worked in a virtual capacity while out of province.

Upon his return — sources say McLaughlin was in the legislative building last weekend — did not quarantine for 14 days, as is required of any other citizen who makes a non-essential trip east of Terrace Bay, Ont.

A provincial government spokeswoman provided no details about Ross's trip, except to say she would be required to quarantine for 14 days.

Teitsma would not have been required to quarantine because he went west.

Now that it's been confirmed that three members of the Pallister government travelled outside the province, how much should we care?

At face value, the fact that three members of the Pallister government were travelling at a time when Manitobans were being urged to stay home is a valid issue, and one that requires some sort of response from the premier.

David McLaughlin, clerk of the executive council, was given two weeks leave in December to travel to Ontario to be with family.</p>

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES

David McLaughlin, clerk of the executive council, was given two weeks leave in December to travel to Ontario to be with family.

Teitsma is an elected member of that government and had a clear obligation to stay home. Things get a bit more complicated for Ross and McLaughlin.

Ross is a senior member of the premier's political staff while McLaughlin is the highest-ranking mandarin in government, the titular head of the civil service and also one of Pallister's most-trusted advisers.

Although the clerk's role is normally filled by a career public administrator, McLaughlin earned his consideration for the job by serving as campaign manager for both the 2016 and 2019 Progressive Conservative election drives. He also earned a handsome income as a consultant to the Pallister government on climate change policy.

However, now that he is the province's top civil servant, he is clearly expected to set an example for all core government employees, particularly those that — by virtue of their occupations — worked throughout the Christmas break to support the pandemic response.

The failure of senior government officials — elected or otherwise — to live up to that expectation has become a pressing political issue.

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips, who took a Caribbean trip last month, was forced to resign his cabinet post.

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney forced the resignations of two cabinet ministers and a senior political adviser, all of whom travelled for non-essential reasons. Three other Alberta MLAs were stripped of legislative responsibilities.

MLA James Teitsma (Radisson) and his family took an extended holiday season car trip and visited Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C.

FACEBOOK PHOTO

MLA James Teitsma (Radisson) and his family took an extended holiday season car trip and visited Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C.

On the federal stage, Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton was stripped of her critic duties for travelling to Greece to visit an ailing family member.

Is this a fair way of dealing with public officials that flout public health rules about non-essential travel?

Clarity on that question came from Kenney, who made no bones about the motivation for asking for the resignations of members of his government. "Albertans have every right to expect that people in positions of public trust be held to a higher standard of conduct during COVID-19," he said Monday.

That "higher standard of conduct" at this critical stage of the pandemic has certainly been acknowledged by others in the Manitoba government, including the premier. Given the number of times Pallister has made ill-advised trips outside the province during the pandemic, that is really saying something.

In early 2020, Pallister left Manitoba to visit his vacation property in Costa Rica, just as the World Health Organization was declaring COVID-19 a global health emergency. Twice since the pandemic reached Manitoba, Pallister made clearly contrived trips to Ottawa that combined some work (although only in the vaguest possible terms) and recreation.

However, even a premier with a keen appetite for travel was not going to be caught outside of Manitoba this holiday season. In December, Pallister proudly proclaimed in year-end interviews he was not leaving Manitoba for any reason. "I'm on duty," he told the Free Press.

Pallister also posted an emotional holiday video message on social media, promoted by the hashtag #SafeatHomeMB, in which he begged people to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19: "This year, just stay home and be safe."

There is no chance Teitsma, McLaughlin and Ross didn't get the memo. They indulged holiday trips no one in their government could possibly justify. Will they be punished?

The respective trips were the wrong thing to do, at the worst possible time.

However, all three have one clear advantage officials in other provinces do not: they work within a government that rarely finds fault in anything it does.

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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