Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pallister's words

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Tory leader Brian Pallister is not a politician just learning the perils of poorly chosen words and ideas. That makes doubly surprising a letter to the editor, sent to Manitoba newspapers Jan. 3, telling people to imagine how they would feel if they learned an NDP MLA had bumped patients waiting for surgery in order to get priority care for his or her own queue-jumping mother.

The scenario is purely imaginary, Mr. Pallister insists, and the letter was not intended to imply this had actually happened. But the "imagine how you would feel" device is often used to put someone's mind in the place of another's experience. The letter, which appeared in some rural newspapers, goes on to lambaste the inexcusable direction by former immigration minister Christine Melnick, who told a civil servant to invite those working in the field to attend a legislative debate over changes to federal settlement services.

The parallel is not easily grasped -- one is the abuse of the civil service for government's political purpose; the other would be an abuse of influence over medical professionals for personal benefit. The NDP called it "an attack on the integrity of government MLAs" and health professionals who manage wait lists.

Mr. Pallister is no stranger to ham-handed and bewildering utterances. His Christmas greeting to "infidel atheists" stirred atheists to wonder why they were being caught up in invectives used by religious extremists. Pallister said he intended to be inclusive, and accused his opponents of deliberately misreading his sentiment. On Friday, the Tories accused the NDP of twisting the intent of his words in the recent letter.

Mr. Pallister is wrong. People expect political leaders to treat serious issues, and allegations, with due care. He should apologize unreservedly to all NDP MLAs for the impression he left.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 13, 2014 A8

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