Opinion

There is no mystery behind Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson’s decision last week to punt Ron Schuler from cabinet.

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There is no mystery behind Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson’s decision last week to punt Ron Schuler from cabinet.

The longtime Tory MLA and now former infrastructure minister committed a cardinal sin: he went rogue on official government policy.

It doesn’t matter what he opposed publicly (in this case, it was government’s proof-of-vaccine mandates and his refusal to support the province’s messaging on COVID-19 immunization). When cabinet ministers take a public stance against their own government, their position in cabinet becomes untenable.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>
Premier Heather Stefanson has removed MLA Ron Schuler from her cabinet.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Heather Stefanson has removed MLA Ron Schuler from her cabinet.

There is good reason for that — it’s not just parliamentary tradition.

Ministers are free to speak their minds (or should be able to) behind closed doors around the cabinet table. That’s where a free exchange of ideas and opinions is supposed to occur. If there is dissent (there often is) it’s expected to stay within those four walls.

That kind of open discourse may not have been common under former premier Brian Pallister; he was seldom interested in the views of others. However, a more collegial approach around the cabinet table appears to have been restored under Stefanson.

Ministers don’t always get their way in cabinet, even when it comes to their own portfolios. They win some and they lose some. Some ministers have more influence than others and the premier always has the final say.

No matter how a decision is arrived at, ministers are expected to emerge from cabinet with a unified voice, regardless of their personal opinions.

No matter how a decision is arrived at, ministers are expected to emerge from cabinet with a unified voice, regardless of their personal opinions. Egos are checked on the way out the meeting room door.

(The unworkable alternative would be to allow individual ministers to promote their own agendas on how to run government. Freelancing on government policy would tank public confidence in cabinet. It would be a circus.)

As a seasoned parliamentarian — he has been an MLA since 1999 and ran for the leadership of the PC party in 2006 — Schuler was well-aware contradicting government policy would land him in hot water.

It wasn’t merely that he refused to disclose his own COVID-19 vaccination status. He opposed government’s proof-of-vaccination policies by repeating several times, publicly, people have a right to keep their vaccine status private. (Under provincial law, Manitobans must disclose their vaccine status to enter certain public places and to work in many public-sector settings.)

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES </p> 
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler has been an MLA since 1999 and ran for the leadership of the PC party in 2006.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler has been an MLA since 1999 and ran for the leadership of the PC party in 2006.

He preached people have a right not to get vaccinated and refused to support government’s messaging all eligible Manitobans should get immunized against COVID-19. Not only did he contradict government policy, he fueled anti-vax sentiment; a negligent and grossly irresponsible move by a cabinet minister during a pandemic.

Schuler, 58, was likely offered the chance to recant or "clarify" his statements. It’s doubtful Stefanson would not have given him that opportunity. (It would explain the delay in removing him from cabinet.)

If he was given that opportunity and still refused to publicly support his government’s vaccine policies, Stefanson had no choice but to remove him from cabinet. She did what any first minister would do under the circumstances.

There is no wiggle room when it comes to cabinet solidarity: you’re either on the team or you’re not. If Schuler felt that strongly about proof-of-vaccine mandates, he should have resigned long ago.

"Liberty has its price, today I paid for mine." – Ron Schuler

After his expulsion, Schuler posted on Twitter: "Liberty has its price, today I paid for mine."

That’s not liberty, it’s foolishness. Schuler’s insinuation his refusal to support his government’s vaccination policies is a violation of his liberty — as if he’s some type of martyr — is ludicrous.

If he truly believes his liberties are under attack, he should resign as the MLA for Springfield-Ritchot so he doesn’t have to show his COVID-19 vaccination card when he enters the Manitoba Legislative Building. Apparently he’s not willing to pay that high of a price for his "liberty" (MLAs make a decent paycheque).

There is enough misinformation peddled on social media by anti-vax quacks without a minister of the Crown — or any member of the legislative assembly — promoting the message people shouldn’t get vaccinated if they don’t want to. It’s stunning this man is still a member of the Progressive Conservative party caucus.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.