Calling himself "the guy who's stealing Christmas," an emotional Premier Brian Pallister told Manitobans he's OK with being unpopular, but he hopes in the years to come that they respect him for making the tough decisions that kept them safe.

"If you don't care for me, I understand. I totally do," Pallister said at the end of a long news conference Thursday, referencing a survey this week that listed his approval rating as the lowest among Canadian first ministers.

Premier Brian Pallister says he's the guy Manitobans need right now. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Premier Brian Pallister says he's the guy Manitobans need right now. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

The premier said he's been the guy, after all, who has been telling people not to shop or travel or go to church or visit friends.

"I'm that guy. And I totally get that you don't like that. I don't like saying it, but it's got to be said. I'm the one who took on this job to say it."

Pallister said he got into politics to try to help people and do what he believes is necessary and right.

"This is who you need right now. I am that person," he said, looking directly into the press theatre television camera.

"If you don't care for me, I understand. I totally do." — Premier Brian Pallister

While Manitobans will be told to maintain their distance from each other during the holiday season, it will help prevent spread of COVID-19, he reiterated.

"I'm the guy who's stealing Christmas to keep you safe," the premier said, his voice cracking, "because you need to do this now. You need to do the right thing because next year we'll have lots to celebrate."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Pallister’s low popularity rating isn’t the result of tough restrictions his government has imposed.

"Most other premiers who put in lockdown restrictions actually saw an increase in popularity — increases in popularity that they’re still enjoying," Kinew told reporters later.

"I think that the reason Manitobans are upset with their premier is because of what everybody knows: this government did not prepare for the second wave. And, when it arrived here in Manitoba, they seemed to bungle the response in everything from personal-care homes and testing to failing to call in the military to help save lives," Kinew said.

"Over and over again they had a chance to get it right and they refused to do so."

Thursday was the last sitting day of the Manitoba legislature until March 3.

Unlike in the spring, when MLAs sat comparatively rarely due to the coronavirus, legislators who returned to the chamber on Oct. 7 kept a full schedule. Members who couldn't be present in person due to physical-distancing requirements appeared virtually.

“I think that the reason Manitobans are upset with their premier is because of what everybody knows: this government did not prepare for the second wave." — NDP Leader Wab Kinew

On Thursday, house Speaker Myrna Driedger saluted the 34 legislature staff and technicians who managed to get the hybrid, virtual system up and running, allowing the work of the house to continue and for citizens to stay in touch with their legislature.

"It was a huge shift for a 150-year-old institution," she said.

The government introduced 68 bills during the fall sitting, most of which will be carried over until spring. Some were reintroduced because they failed to pass in the previous legislative session.

Nine bills received royal assent Thursday

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Bill 4 The Retail Business Hours of Operation Act

Bill 7 The Planning Amendment Act

Bill 9 The Opioid Damages and Health Care Recovery Act

Bill 42 The Remote Witnessing and Commissioning Act

Bill 208 The Wildlife Amendment Act (Protecting Property from Water and Wildlife Damage)

Bill 211 The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act (Unpaid Leave for Reservists)

Bill 218 The Somali Heritage Week Act

Bill 300 The United Church of Canada Amendment Act

Bill 301 The Winnipeg Humane Society Foundation Incorporation Amendment Act

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The most significant — and contentious — bill to pass during the fall sitting was the Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act. It raised electricity rates on Dec. 1 without any regulatory oversight and prevents children who were in care and had their child special allowance clawed back from being able to recoup that money by suing the government.

More than 20 bills were introduced without being distributed to MLAs or to the public.

NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine accused the Pallister government of "hiding" the bills that she said will result in massive changes to education, child care and police accountability.

"Manitobans deserve to know what’s in these bills before they are passed into law and have a direct impact on their daily lives," she said in a news release. The undistributed bills include changes to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act that will make it harder for journalists and the official Opposition to hold the government to account, the NDP said.

Nine bills passed and received royal assent Thursday as the 2020 sitting came to a close, including one that would allow Manitoba to join a class-action suit against manufacturers and wholesalers of opioid products.

Another bill changes the composition of the Winnipeg Humane Society Foundation board and amends how it invests its money.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

   Read full biography