Where’s Brian? Premier's whereabouts once again draw scrutiny after D-Day snub

It's time once again to play Manitoba journalists' favourite game, Where's Brian?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/06/2019 (1335 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s time once again to play Manitoba journalists’ favourite game, Where’s Brian?

It involves reporters trying to outwit government communicators to figure out where Premier Brian Pallister is at any given moment. They, in turn, try to give us as little information as possible. In this latest instalment, the intrigue surrounds the premier’s current trip to France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day where, it appears, he failed to attend the principal events commemorating that pivotal moment in the Second World War.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Brian Pallister was not present for the D-Day ceremonies at Juno Beach in France, Thursday.

Despite confirming at a legislative session-ending news conference on Tuesday he would attend “the 75th-commemorative recognition of the Normandy invasion,” Pallister was not at Juno Beach for the main Canadian ceremony Thursday, which drew more than 5,000 people, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and various other premiers and dignitaries.

Pallister had been invited and had an assigned seat in the front row of the VIP section but chose instead to do something else, somewhere else. What and where were not immediately clear.

When first queried, a government spokeswoman said that Manitoba was represented at Juno Beach by MLA Jon Reyes, who is a 10-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy. This was apparently a decision by the premier to give Reyes a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate as the official representative for the Manitoba Government” at the Juno Beach event.

The spokeswoman indicated that Pallister would, at some point, attend “a wreath laying at Vimy” along with “commemorative events in Normandy at the Canadian War Cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize and with Manitoba regiments distinguished by their own valour and sacrifice.” Unfortunately, the communicator did not initially say when these events would be taking place.

So where, exactly, was Brian? Questions remain after a series of vague and conflicting statements from his spokespeople.

Fred Tanneau / Pool / The Associated Press The main Canadian ceremony at Juno Beach Thursday drew more than 5,000 people, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and various other premiers and dignitaries.

Late Thursday, a spokeswoman said Pallister had already performed a wreath laying at Vimy (which must mean the Canadian National Vimy Memorial) on Wednesday night. That is somewhat odd because that is a monument to Canadian soldiers with no known graves who died in the First World War, and not D-Day. While Pallister was at Vimy, most Canadian dignitaries were involved in a D-Day wreath laying at the Canadian War Cemetery at Bény-sur-Mer.

The spokeswoman then confirmed that on Thursday, Pallister spent the day with officials from Roquette, a French company that is the fourth-largest producer of starch in the world. Roquette is building a pea-processing plant near Portage la Prairie that is expected to open next year.

On Friday, Pallister is expected to attend a ceremony at the Canadian War Cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize, which is part of continuing D-Day anniversary events.

That still leaves the question about why the premier would be a no-show at Juno Beach, and use this solemn occasion instead to cram in a meeting with Roquette. Opinions will vary, of course, and if past practice is any indication, Pallister will likely not offer much in the way of explanation, let alone justification.

The truth of this may turn out to be painfully simple.

Thibault Camus / The Associated Press People walk among vintage World War II vehicles parked on the beach during events to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Arromanches, Normandy, France, Thursday.

At his session-ending news conference, Pallister said he would be gone “the better part of 12 days.” His spokeswoman later confirmed that on the back end of the D-Day events and economic development meetings, he would be taking some personal time, at his own expense, for a vacation with wife Esther.

Snubbing the Juno Beach commemoration seems, increasingly, to be the result of an attempt to wrap-up official duties as quickly as possible to start his vacation. His office continues to refuse to confirm any other economic development-related meetings after the D-Day events are completed.

The 75th anniversary of D-Day is a momentous day for veterans of the Second World War because it is likely the last significant milestone that will be attended by the men who experienced first-hand the frantic invasion on the beaches of Normandy. Most of the surviving veterans are well into their 90s, and unlikely to see a centennial anniversary.

That makes this a critically important event, coming at a sensitive moment in time, marking a seismic moment in history of humankind, and one where Canadians played a significant role. Pallister’s political spider-sense, or his political advisers, should have warned him that ignoring this event to gladhand with Roquette executives would be the wrong thing to do.

Pallister’s D-Day snub recalls an earlier controversy surrounding former Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, who in 2011 was caught ditching Remembrance Day ceremonies to spend a long-weekend at his vacation home in Phoenix. When Katz’s absence was first noted, he refused to say where he was. When he was eventually outed for the trip down south, he was contrite and never missed another Nov. 11 commemoration until he left politics in 2014.

It also harkens back to some of the trouble Pallister got into in 2014 for fibbing about being at his vacation home in Costa Rica when Manitoba was struck by severe spring and summer floods. He claimed he was at a family wedding out west when he was actually soaking up the Central American sun.

As is the case in many of these self-inflicted wounds, Pallister could have very easily avoided all of the criticism and scrutiny just by doing what he said he was going to do, which was attend the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Just show up to all of the major events, pay tribute to the veterans and then go off to enjoy a well-earned vacation. All it would have taken is one more day of work, and one less day of vacation.

So, where’s Brian now? In trouble, again.

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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