March 28, 2020

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Premier's high-heel blunder latest in a history of gaffes

John Woods / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Premier Pallister can be relentless, driven and ambitious, he can also be a loose cannon.</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press files

Premier Pallister can be relentless, driven and ambitious, he can also be a loose cannon.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/12/2017 (841 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba Tories, and Manitobans in general, are currently being reminded of the risks and the rewards that accompanied the 2016 election of Premier Brian Pallister.

A veteran public servant and successful business owner, there are a lot of reasons on paper to consider him to be the right man to lead the province, particularly in these perilous and uncertain economic times. He is relentless, driven and ambitious.

However, Pallister is also a loose cannon who can, and often does, surprise the people around him with the things he says and does. For a case in point, we need look no further than the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce State of the Province address on Thursday.

In his opening remarks to 1,200 members of the business and political community at the RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre, Pallister thanked chamber chair Johanna Hurme — a successful architect and businesswoman — for "dressing up" for the occasion, and "for those heels."

In the hours that followed the speech, furor over the comments grew until the premier — normally a laggard when it comes to admitting his missteps — issued a statement which tried to provide the context for his comments. Lamentably, it was not an apology.

Pallister's statement turned out to be one of those "I'm-sorry-if-you-are-one-of-those-people-who-were-offended-by-my-joke" apologies that was missing an essential ingredient: an admission that what he did was wrong. In this, the year when powerful men who harass and abuse women have been stripped of their armour and arrogance, this is a hilariously insufficient response.

For her part, Hurme issued an elegant statement later on Friday afternoon that attempted to explain her response to the comments, as well as her feelings going forward. Although she did not consider Pallister's comments "ill-intended" or "a significant moment for me personally," she nonetheless acknowledged that this incident was connected to a much bigger issue "that I cannot ignore on behalf of all women, young girls and progressive men in the audience – and now across our country."

Hurme expressed her disappointment that Pallister had decided to acknowledge her presence at the chamber lunch with comments about her clothes and shoes "and not my based on my work.... Unfortunately, similar situations continue to be all too familiar for women in leadership positions across Canada."

In closing, Hurme noted that she received a call from Pallister, shared her thoughts with the premier, and he "expressed his regrets."

It is, at this moment, hard to tell how much longer this story will simmer. Pallister has no shortage of political enemies who will try to use this gaffe to undermine broader public support for the premier and his government. The shrill siren of outrage is already ramping up in opposition offices.

There are also no doubt segments of the Manitoba electorate — mostly, but perhaps not exclusively, men — who will dismiss what happened as an overreaction to events that are occurring well away from this province.

The fact is that this thing, is a thing. There's no getting around it. The world has recently undergone swift and seismic change when it comes to indiscretions committed by powerful men against women. Any man who doesn't understand the importance and magnitude of that change is not worthy of much sympathy.

But there is more to this story than just another older man demonstrating a lack of sensitivity about the way women are treated and characterized. This is also fast becoming a story about how a premier has become the single greatest liability in his own government.

Pallister is impulsive, largely does not trust the people who are advising or serving with him, and shoots from the lip more than a first minister should. He is demanding when it comes to the performance of others, and yet has single-handedly produced more negative headlines than anyone else in his government. After looking at his roster of gaffes and missteps, one has to wonder whether he would tolerate this kind of performance from one of his cabinet ministers.

There was the time during the provincial election where it was revealed that Pallister had fibbed about being out of Manitoba, and in Costa Rica at his vacation property, during 2012 summer floods. Pallister had continued to maintain he was at a family wedding in Alberta, right up until a media outlet found incontrovertible documents showing that he was, in fact, in Central America.

Pallister's mismanagement of the Costa Rica issue produced other wounds as well. He and his government were forced to deflect questions for several weeks after Pallister's refusal to explain how he keeps in touch with his office while down south, and the ultimate revelation that he was channeling sensitive government information and phone calls through his wife's mobile phone.

There was the infamous night-hunting comments, in which he disparaged indigenous hunting rights and suggested that friction between indigenous hunters and non-indigenous hunters and landowners was becoming a "race war."

There have been ill-advised taunts directed towards the federal government, and disparaging remarks about policies in other provinces. For Tory party insiders, the gaffes include Pallister's curious decision to float the idea of a health care premium, a controversial idea that had never been discussed at length within the party or the government, and which certainly did not do anything to win or sustain support among voters.

For a party that is sagging in the polls, particularly in the seat-rich capital city of the province, these gaffes are extremely concerning for a government and a party that has struggled to provide good government.

Pallister's remarks at the chamber lunch were certainly ill-timed and poorly conceived.

But they also tell us something about the qualities of the man running the province. And it's not good.

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

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.

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