To be clear, the single digit raised repeatedly in a newly released video titled Dear Brian should not be confused with "We’re No. 1."
Rather, the one-finger salute from more than 50 people in a comedian’s YouTube video condemns Premier Brian Pallister for his government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the video, Winnipeg musician J. Williamez plays acoustic guitar and sings a tune that chides Pallister for blaming others after the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Manitoba saw the province reach the highest per capita infection rate in North America.
The video also takes shots at Springs Church, which recently held an indoor graduation ceremony in Winnipeg, in contravention of provincial pandemic regulations, as well as ministries such as the Church of God of Restoration in Steinbach, whose pastor, Tobias Thissen, has also flouted the provincial health orders.
Williamez’s video has received more than 19,000 views on YouTube since he posted it on the popular video-sharing website on June 8, and he says he isn’t surprised it has caught Manitobans’ attention.
"It turns out that there is a really great little community that has formed in Manitoba, based on people’s common hatred of Brian Pallister," Williamez writes in a Facebook chat. "With his approval rating sitting as low as it is, it’s not hard to tap into the resentment people are feeling. I think his abysmal response to the pandemic has been a big reason for people being as receptive as they’ve been to what I’ve been doing."
Dear Brian is the latest of several anti-Pallister videos Williamez has produced and posted to his social media in the last five months, but he says his opposition to the premier and his government’s policies goes back a couple of years, when he began writing and sending letters of criticism to Pallister.
"In each one, I would point out something stupid he was saying or doing, and then finish off by asking him for a job as head of public relations for his administration," Williamez says. "Eventually, I got bored writing letters that I didn’t think were making much difference... so I decided to write some songs and videos about him to see if that would get his attention."
Williamez, who away from the stage is Jeremy Williams, specializes in musical comedy but also has a background in video, so it was an easy transition from letter-writing to social media. He received production help from folks in the city’s music community for Dear Brian and found no difficulty finding Winnipeggers who wanted to participate in the profane video.
"The tough part was that I did all the filming myself, so I was whipping around the city on my scooter, setting up and tearing down my camera and tripod at each house, then trying to figure out where the next closest finger was going to be," he says. "But the hardest part was saying no to people after I had more than enough footage, not convincing people to do it in the first place."
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.