Premier Brian Pallister's holiday gift to media this year wasn't the usual one-on-one, year-end interviews. Instead, he conducted a wide-ranging scrum beside a fireplace in his office, offering some news crumbs, a jab at union bosses, and some "bold" thoughts on the year ahead.
The Manitoba premier said Tuesday he's learned he needs to choose his words carefully, especially when dealing with the City of Winnipeg.
"I think in 2019, we saw what happens when I’m less than careful with my comments. I’m pretty direct," he said, seated in an armchair in front of more than a dozen reporters at the legislature building.
Pallister dismissed a request from the city to commit specific funding for reducing phosphorus from the north end sewage treatment plant before a plan is in place.
"Money without a plan is not really money well-allocated," he said. "Start with a planning process. That’s what we’re partnering with the city to do."
Last week, the Progressive Conservative government denied a city request for an extension to develop a solution to reduce emissions at the plant. Instead, it is compelling Winnipeg to produce an interim phosphorus-reduction plan by the end of January, for implementation Feb. 1. The province said it will participate in two committees with the city to kick-start the process.
Posted: 10/12/2019 4:31 PM
Breaking news: Premier Brian Pallister tweaked his back moving firewood.
It should be noted Pallister is among the most fit and athletic 65-year-olds in the province. A high achiever in basketball and baseball, he still carries himself with a decidedly athletic gait. And a tweaked back is something most adult men can empathize with.
The premier was asked about concerns premature action at the north end plant could have unintended consequences on other parts of the system.
"We're asking for a plan. Let's get moving," Pallister said. "We can’t delay, defer and postpone cleaning up Lake Winnipeg or any other water body in our province... We're after results."
As for the February deadline: "In my experience, without deadlines things don't get done."
Pallister fielded multiple questions on topics such as education, housing, and whether the government plans to privatize Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp. (the latter got a simple "no" response).
He also deflected questions about whether he would seek another term in office, musing about a theory he'd read suggesting he's considering a run for the leadership of the federal Conservative party.
"I’m most certainly focused on the job at hand. I’m excited. I’m emboldened by our progress. There’s much more that needs to be done. I’m emboldened by the challenges, too," Pallister said, talking later about some of the specific challenges Manitoba faces (possibility of spring flooding, mounting health-care costs tied to an aging population).
Pallister said he wouldn't support a national pharmacare plan while the share of federal funding for health care continued to languish below the 25 per cent mark. As well, he expressed concern whether any new national plan would be as good as Manitoba's current provincial blueprint.
"I’m most certainly focused on the job at hand. I’m excited. I’m emboldened by our progress. There’s much more that needs to be done. I’m emboldened by the challenges, too." - Premier Brian Pallister
The premier defended a government bill introduced last week that would set limits on compensation paid to executives throughout the public sector, including heads of Crown corporations, universities and colleges. He said front-line workers have dealt with wage freezes in recent years and it's only fair salaries paid to top officials be scrutinized, too.
"We’ve asked for all hands on deck, and we are getting growing support from — not the union bosses, necessarily — but certainly the people within the unions. And there’s reasons for that," Pallister said.
"First of all, by taking our number of bargaining units down by 80 per cent, we’re letting people do what they’re trained to do instead of sitting and wasting their time at a bargaining table, eating croissants and for what purpose? The idea here is to simplify our public-sector operations. And that’s what we’ve done."
On the environment front, the Manitoba government asked the federal court to temporarily pause its challenge to Ottawa's carbon tax on Oct. 10. Asked whether he was considering abandoning the lawsuit altogether, Pallister pushed back.
"We’re watching. It’s logical I think that we’re watching to see what happens with the other (provinces') court cases and learn from them," the Manitoba premier said, ostensibly referring to the Supreme Court case to be heard in March, among others.
"Our court case is not identical to those, I’d say it’s much stronger. It’s based on some other principles we believe will be convincing in a court, if we have to go to court. But we don’t want to go to court. We’d rather work with Ottawa on a co-operative strategy that sees us move in the green direction, which is what we’re doing as a province, without having to waste our time or money on a court process."
While Pallister alluded to being more temperate with his comments, his last pitch was a promise to take even bolder action in 2020.
"Manitobans asked for bold. They got bold," he said. "And they elected us again, so now they’re going to get bolder."
On Thursday, Pallister will appear before the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce to deliver the "state of the province" address.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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.