The depths of Premier Brian Pallister's pandemic delusions reached a new low point Thursday morning at the worst possible time.
It was, to be fair, a pretty tough day for any politician. Twenty-four hours earlier, Manitoba recorded its 1,000th death from COVID-19, an extraordinary loss of life that speaks to both the nature of the virus and the struggles the Pallister government has suffered trying to contain it.
Asked about the death toll, Pallister agreed "it was a tragic day." He also made one brief mention of how his government hadn't "done everything right."
But after those perfunctory comments, Pallister spent several minutes indulging in an act of acute, delusional rationalization.
"We're facing an unprecedented challenge together and we're doing the best we can," Pallister said. "Most of us are doing very well."
There are many reasons why that is a completely inappropriate thing to say on the day after we reached a truly tragic milestone. Particularly when the general public is fully aware that there was so much more Pallister could have done to minimize the loss of life.
And while it is true most Manitobans have not lost a loved one to COVID-19, only a man suffering from a chronic empathy deficit would ever suggest that we're all "doing well" in this pandemic.
Some of us have suffered more during the pandemic, and some less. But living with the pandemic has hurt everyone.
Even if you haven't contracted COVID-19 or lost a loved one, we're all living with the constant threat of contracting a potentially fatal infectious disease. Many Manitobans have not been able to earn a steady living, and all of us have been denied the life-affirming power of close contact with friends and family.
For the record, premier, we are not all well and few believe you have done the best you could.
The premier's callous posture is now part of a well–worn pattern. When confronted with empirical evidence of failure, Pallister conjures a glass–half–full fantasy to obscure a glass–half–empty situation.
The premier's callous posture is now part of a well-worn pattern. When confronted with empirical evidence of failure, Pallister conjures a glass-half-full fantasy to obscure a glass-half-empty situation.
Like last fall, when Pallister's refusal to impose the necessary social and economic restrictions, and general mismanagement of testing and contact tracing, manifested in one of the worst second waves of COVID-19 in the world.
As the body count soared, Pallister preferred to blame individual Manitobans for not adhering to restrictions that had, for the most part, been applied way too late to make a difference. The premier interpreted growing animosity directed at him as anger over restrictions; the truth was, people were angry because Pallister watched idly as the second wave approached and did nothing.
All the while, Pallister fabricated the slimmest of statistical achievements to defend his government's measly performance. Thursday was no different.
To mitigate the death toll, the premier repeatedly crowed about how Manitoba has had fewer new cases of COVID-19 in this calendar year than almost any other province, and 10,000 less than Saskatchewan. Pallister said this is proof that Manitoba has succeeded in "delaying the onset of the third wave better than anybody."
That would be a truly impressive accomplishment if the pandemic were ending today. But as we all know, the suffering will continue for months, and more important metrics paint a much more unflattering picture.
Currently, only Quebec has a higher rate of death; Quebec has suffered 128 deaths per 100,000 citizens, while Manitoba is at 72. That is considerably higher than Ontario (57), Alberta (48), Saskatchewan (43), and British Columbia (32).
And while Pallister finds comfort in the fact Saskatchewan has had more cases since the beginning of the year, the two provinces actually have roughly the same number of cases (43,000) since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Manitoba currently has the second highest daily rate of new cases in the country (345); only Alberta has more (610).
When you look past the lipstick and rouge Pallister is feverishly applying to his government's performance, an inescapable truth comes into focus.
Pallister is still in the process of burning the province to the ground through an incendiary combination of obstinence and incompetence. And yet, he actually expects people to applaud the fact that Manitoba is burning a wee bit slower than neighbouring jurisdictions.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that in a week or two, Manitoba will once again have among the worst outbreaks in Canada.
The premier's incessant tone-deafness certainly raises questions about what others in this government are doing to keep him in check. Why aren't key advisors like David McLaughlin, the clerk of the executive council and de facto chief of staff, curbing Pallister's offensive tendency to gloss over his mistakes? Where are the senior members of Pallister's cabinet and why aren't they doing something to drag the premier back into some semblance of reality?
If they all see the world that Pallister has created during the pandemic and do nothing, we are left to conclude that they approve of what's going on.
And therein lies the real problem with delusions. The last people to recognize them are the delusional.
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.