Brian Pallister wants Manitobans to know that while he recently dropped $2 million on a Wellington Crescent mansion, he wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
The Progressive Conservative leader called a news conference Monday to respond to criticisms of the purchase, which appears to have drawn more public attention than the entire 13-day fall legislative sitting.
Pallister described how he came from humble beginnings on a farm southwest of Portage la Prairie. How he and his two siblings were raised in a 450-square-foot home that did not have indoor plumbing until 1967.
The future Tory leader put himself through university, worked for a time as a school teacher and then launched a financial consulting business out of his car.
"I built my business based on helping people get better off financially, and in so doing, I got better off financially myself," he told reporters, speaking from notes.
"I helped young families get out of debt. I helped small business people to find success in an era of double-digit interest rates. I helped farmers to be able to pass on their farms to their heirs. I helped labourers get benefits packages. I helped working people get pensions. I helped seniors find better financial security than they would have without my advice."
Pallister said he took exception to comments from university professors quoted in the Free Press and CBC stories about his house purchase.
The academics left the false impression, he said, that he couldn't relate to, or had disdain for, people who were struggling financially.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said Monday.
Pallister's new address boasts 9,000 square feet of living space with a seven-car heated garage, a backyard basketball court and a view of the Assiniboine River. It sits on 1.7 acres of riverfront property. It was originally listed for $3.3 million.
The Tory leader said he and his wife "lived frugally and reasonably" for many years.
"We've chosen to invest in Manitoba and we're proud of that choice."
He said he entered politics to fight for those who need "smarter and more efficient government to work for them, who need government to help sometimes and sometimes just to get out of the way."
He noted that last week when the house-purchase story broke, his party was advancing issues such as fairer taxes for working people and the plight of children in the care of child and family services.
"I've never been in the proximity of a silver spoon. I understand what it's like to live with humility. I understand what it's like to run out of money before the end of the month. I can relate to people very well who work hard and who do not always find success," he said.
As for his own success, Pallister said: "I used a simple plan. Zero, 20, 60. I started with nothing. I went to night school for 20 years. I've always worked 60-hour weeks."