November 18, 2019

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Pallister begins 2019 throwing punches at... well, everyone

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/1/2019 (298 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/1/2019 (298 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Following a sleepy, snowy Christmas break, it didn't take long for Manitoba's angriest man to make his presence known.

It was this past Monday, and Premier Brian Pallister summoned journalists to the Manitoba legislature with only 90 minutes notice. That is typically shorthand for "the premier is about to erupt on something and we need to get there as soon as possible."

Premier Brian Pallister addresses media at the Manitoba Legislative Building at a hastily called press conference on Monday.  (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

Premier Brian Pallister addresses media at the Manitoba Legislative Building at a hastily called press conference on Monday. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

The topic for this hastily convened scrum was innocuously described as "intergovernmental relations." When it was over, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier Francois Legault and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman had felt the premier's steel.

Pallister lashed out with relish at Trudeau and Legault over a face-to-face meeting between the two men earlier this month. It was at this mini-summit that the Quebec premier delivered an actual list of demands he would like to see Ottawa fulfil before Canadians go to the polls in the fall.

Many political observers interpreted Legault's list as a thinly veiled offer to help Trudeau buy votes ahead of an election in which Quebec will be a major focus of attention by all major political parties.

Pallister accused Legault of "old-style brokerage politics." As for Trudeau, Pallister suggested he was actually enabling this behaviour. "Canada doesn't need kings pandering to feudal barons," Pallister told reporters. "What they need is a prime minister who demonstrates respect for all of Canada."

It's safe to assume that Legault's brazenness raised eyebrows among first ministers from coast to coast. However, none of them convened a scrum to bash a fellow first minister.

It's safe to assume that Legault's brazenness raised eyebrows among first ministers from coast to coast. However, none of them convened a scrum to bash a fellow first minister.

Typically, first ministers demonstrate considerable deference when it comes to another premier's statements and decisions.

When Legault presents Trudeau with a list of demands, he knows it will play well with a large segment of the Quebec population.He will be seen as a political leader standing up for his citizens. Something that Pallister should be able to empathize with.

Pallister lashed out with relish at Trudeau and Legault over a face-to-face meeting between the two men earlier this month.  (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

Pallister lashed out with relish at Trudeau and Legault over a face-to-face meeting between the two men earlier this month. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

It's also important to note that every premier in Canada, including Manitoba's, has a "list" of stuff they want to extract from Ottawa.

Pallister should be commended for not presenting his like a grocery-shopping reminder. But he shouldn't pretend that he hasn't compiled one of his own.

Perhaps Pallister believes that attacking other premiers is fair ball, because in doing so, he is simply playing to his base. And there is no doubt that likening Trudeau and Legault to medieval oligarchs will earn him some knee-slapping guffaws here in Manitoba.

But it's not a good look for the premier of Manitoba, or any first minister, for that matter.

There is no doubt that likening Trudeau and Legault to medieval oligarchs will earn him some knee-slapping guffaws here in Manitoba. But it's not a good look for the premier of Manitoba, or any first minister, for that matter.

If tradition is not persuasive, Pallister might take note that other premiers in this country have been considerably more deferential when it comes to Manitoba government decisions and statements.

Last fall, when Pallister torpedoed his own carbon-tax plan — essentially offering no alternative to Trudeau's national levy — it put provinces with existing carbon-pricing schemes in a bad position. One of the best consequences of Trudeau's initiative is a country where similar level of carbon pricing exists in all provinces; if some provinces tax carbon and others do not, it essentially punishes those jurisdictions that have put plans in place.

In this week's media scrum, Pallister flatly denied Bowman's request, noting that in this and most other aspects of provincial-municipal relations, "the tail does not wag the dog." (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

In this week's media scrum, Pallister flatly denied Bowman's request, noting that in this and most other aspects of provincial-municipal relations, "the tail does not wag the dog." (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

For the record, nobody from British Columbia, Alberta or Quebec — provinces that already have some form of carbon pricing — called out Pallister for his decision. And to date, Legault has not responded in kind with a response to Pallister's harsh words. That certainly makes Legault look more like a statesman than his Manitoba counterpart.

As for Bowman, Pallister's most recent comments suggest his relationship with the mayor is full-on dysfunctional.

Bowman drew the ire of the premier earlier in January when he asked for written confirmation of provincial support before the city drafts its 2019 budget. Bowman's request was politically provocative; the province has never provided written confirmation of provincial grants and transfers before March.

Bowman did not say it explicitly, but his demands suggest pretty clearly he doesn't trust the premier to deliver on a total amount of financial support that is similar to what the city received last year.

In this week's media scrum, Pallister flatly denied Bowman's request, noting that in this and most other aspects of provincial-municipal relations, "the tail does not wag the dog."

It is certainly within the premier's prerogative to take a hard line on Bowman's comment. What Pallister is not entitled to is the string of misinformation he used to justify his position.

It is certainly within the premier's prerogative to take a hard line on Bowman's comment. What Pallister is not entitled to is the string of misinformation he used to justify his position.

He told reporters that no other province provides advance written confirmation of grants and transfers ahead of provincial budgets. The Twitterverse erupted with evidence that Alberta and Saskatchewan both provide early, formal confirmation to help local governments set their budgets.

Then, as more evidence of the inherent injustice of Bowman's demand, Pallister denied that his government gets any advance information from Ottawa on federal support for Manitoba. That is also untrue; the federal government publishes full details of federal transfer payments in December of each year, three months before most provinces set their budgets.

Any legitimate argument that Pallister had about the unreasonable nature of Bowman's request has been officially undermined by a torrent of untruths.

As is almost always the case, these acts of aggression are big winners with core Tory supporters, who likely care little about the vagaries of intergovernmental affairs, the traditions of first ministers and facts about grants to local government. But they are not elegant.

Such is the fate of a province led by a premier who loves a good fight more than he desires a fair solution.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

Read full biography

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