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Brian Pallister

THE Manitoba Progressive Conservatives have effectively been without a leader for more than six months, ever since Hugh McFadyen's disappointing performance in the Oct. 4 provincial election.

Now, all of a sudden, we have Brian Pallister making a big splashy announcement at The Forks about his leadership aspirations.

His timing was spot on. The NDP government is about to deliver what may be its worst bad-news budget this coming Tuesday. With the province saddled with a $1.1-billion deficit and rising, something's got to be done, and fast.

So far, though, the NDP has shown a preference for blaming the feds for failing to increase health and education transfers to the province for a third consecutive year. This makes it "very challenging" for Manitoba to protect those basic services, according to Premier Greg Sellinger.

To this, Pallister responds: "It's not a revenue problem. It's a spending problem."

So what does this mean, exactly? Does it mean Pallister would spend less on the province's universities and colleges, even though Red River College faces an $11 million budget deficit of its own, and the University of Winnipeg may be as much as $4 million in the hole? Does it mean he would spend less on health care? Infrastructure? Flood relief?

If and when power is thrust upon Pallister, he will find, like leaders before him have, things are always much more complicated than they appear.

But, while you are maneuvering to get that power, it is a good idea to keep things simple. Hence, the quote, which would make a dandy election slogan, about spending problems. It's a statement that plays perfectly to party stereotypes. The NDP spends like drunken sailors. The Progressive Conservatives are the responsible parents. Like all good slogans, it ignores reality. But we're watching for Pallister to hammer at this theme, both on Tuesday and over the next few months. If he expects to be leader, and maybe even premier, that's all he has to do, really. Paint the NDP as irresponsible. If he combines that with wearing a nice suit (but not too nice, or the NDP spin doctors might do another mocking commercial), and manages not to do, say or promise anything stupid, he's a shoo-in.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2012 J2

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