Opinion

Even for a politician with a penchant for tortured logic, this was quite a performance.

Confronted with the results of a national poll that show he had the lowest approval rating of any provincial leader, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister suggested at a news conference Tuesday that his ranking had nothing to do with him personally — and everything to do with COVID-19.

"It tells me that people don't like COVID and neither do I," the lanky Pallister said with what appeared to be a genuinely straight face.

Premier Brian Pallister speaks during a COVID-19 update Tuesday morning at the Manitoba Legislative building.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister speaks during a COVID-19 update Tuesday morning at the Manitoba Legislative building.

Exactly what he meant by that statement is difficult to tell. That Manitobans are generally grumpy and cannot be trusted to provide salient responses to any poll question? That Manitobans are not upset about Pallister's performance, per se, but rather the fact that they are living under severe public health restrictions brought in by him?

In the end, it doesn't matter because Pallister's response was nonsensical. As such, it only proves (once again) that he is not at risk of contracting a sudden case of political accountability.

To be fair, the quarterly Angus Reid poll that prompted the question is pretty thin. On the surface, it's pretty unflattering for Pallister: a 32 per cent approval rating, 12 points less than the last quarterly survey, and the lowest in the country. But the results are calculated from a small sample size in smaller provinces such as Manitoba.

It's not the only poll of its kind. Pallister noted that a similar Leger poll released last week had more positive results: it ranked him about middle of the pack; not the most popular or most unpopular.

"It tells me that people don't like COVID and neither do I." — Premier Brian Pallister on the results of a national poll showing that he had the lowest approval rating of any provincial leader

However, the issue isn't whether the polls are accurate or fair, it's the fact that Pallister shuns any opportunity to demonstrate genuine humility about his government's performance during the pandemic.

When asked about the Angus Reid poll, it was an opportunity to admit that his government has made some mistakes and he acknowledges some of his citizens are unhappy with his performance as first minister. Regardless of what the polls say, there are reasons to be unhappy.

The pillars of Manitoba's pandemic response — testing capacity, contract tracing, clear direction on public health orders — have been shaky, at best. Like many other political leaders, Pallister started plotting an economic recovery in the summer, months before the threat was truly alleviated. We're all paying the price for his lack of delayed gratification.

Accepting responsibility is not, however, one of Pallister's strong suits. He's much better at deflecting responsibility, and we get constant reminders of that when he appears for "enforcement updates."

An update of the tickets handed out to pandemic rule-breakers has become the premier's topic of choice for media availabilities. Of all the things the government is doing right now to bend the curve of this second surge of COVID-19, enforcement seems to be the one that Pallister most wants to associate with.

However, these enforcement news conferences are getting tired. The premier has nothing new to say and no real solutions to offer other than a threat to issue more tickets of greater value until we all fall into line. Anyone who pays attention to the daily COVID-19 briefing knows that from an epidemiological perspective, the fines are not working. Nor are the premier's constant lectures about taking precautions to stop the surge in infections.

On Tuesday, he was asked a solid question about what he could do as premier to bring rogue municipalities into line on enforcement of public health orders. An increasing number of rural municipal leaders has claimed to have no capacity to enforce restrictions on illegal store openings or public gatherings.

... anyone paying attention to the daily COVID–19 briefing knows that from an epidemiological perspective, the fines are not working. Nor are the premier's constant lectures about taking precautions to stop the surge in new infections.

Others, like officials in the RM of Hanover, have said that (and I kid you not) they would not enforce public health orders because the province wouldn't allow them to enforce truck weight restrictions on provincial roads in their jurisdiction.

Hanover elected officials should be immediately fined for coming up with the weakest argument ever for not helping to control a deadly pandemic.

It's a tricky situation. Pallister does not want to trample on municipal jurisdiction but at the same time, he needs all local governments to pull together to enforce public health orders. There is an alarming number of new COVID-19 cases from outside Winnipeg and it's impossible to keep eyes on every open store or public gathering without municipal help.

Pallister had no suggestions other than pledging to continue to use RCMP and provincial resources to provide coverage in unco-operative municipalities. But even he knows there aren't enough Mounties or provincial personnel to go around.

He could have called rogue RMs to bring them onside, or offered additional financial resources to help them hire bylaw officers. However, on this day, at that particular moment, he couldn't think of a single solution.

The polls that have assigned Pallister the lowest approval rating of any premier may not be fair or accurate. But it's fair to observe that he doesn't take responsibility for the things that have gone wrong and hasn't got a lot of fresh ideas to stop this second surge in COVID-19.

The longer you suffer from those two shortcomings, the more likely it is that people will grow to resent you.

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
   Sign up for Dan Lett’s email newsletter, Not for Attribution