So, is this what we should expect from an “old union guy?”

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This article was published 5/5/2017 (1597 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

So, is this what we should expect from an "old union guy?"

It is, once and for all, reality-check time on one of Premier Brian Pallister’s favoured folksy self-identifiers — specifically, the deftly spun notion that his deep roots in organized labour affirm his understanding of the wants and needs of average working people and should, somehow, allay the concerns of unionized workers who feel targeted by his provincial government’s agenda.

He unleashed the "old union guy" bromide earlier this spring as discussions on a federal-provincial health accord reached an impasse and, despite his effort to assemble a united all-provinces front that would force Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to pony up more across-the-board funding, other provinces struck individual deals with Ottawa, leaving Manitoba as the lone holdout.

"I’m an old union guy. Solidarity is what it is," Mr. Pallister said in March. "Divide and conquer is no way to negotiate health care. I’m not happy with a pick-them-off side deal on health care."

He also said, when asked about the possibility of a federal-government deadline on Manitoba signing its own health deal, "I’m not going to be intimidated by threats. People use techniques sometimes that they shouldn’t."

One can’t help wondering what the old union guy — who did, in fact, serve briefly as a local union representative while working as a teacher in Gladstone in the late 1970s — was thinking on Wednesday.

Testimony was unfolding at the Manitoba Labour Board hearing concerning charges that the University of Manitoba employed unfair labour practices during last fall’s negotiations with the U of M Faculty Association.

During his testimony, the university’s associate vice-president of human resources recalled being told the institution could face "quite damaging" consequences — including the potential loss of operating grants and capital funding, and the possible removal of the university’s president — if it didn’t obey the Pallister government’s order to freeze wages.

"It was made quite clear to us that it was an order — not optional — and that the government would take steps not favourable to the university if we did not participate in that mandate," Gregory Juliano testified.

Mr. Pallister, of course, has made reining in public-sector wages a marquee element of his austerity-minded effort to get Manitoba’s finances back in order. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he wants the realm of publicly funded academia to shoulder its share of the budget-relief burden.

But the tactics described by Mr. Juliano sound a lot like the unseemly sorts of threats and intimidation Mr. Pallister so angrily decried when he felt the federal government was doing the same thing to him.

Well, you can’t have it both ways. Do unto others. That sort of thing.

It can fairly be argued that Mr. Pallister is correct when he says his government inherited a fiscal mess from its NDP predecessor, and that a made-in-Manitoba, all-hands-on-deck approach is the only way to ease the balance sheet ink colour from red back into black.

There’s also merit to a very public discussion of the role organized labour should play in that effort.

What there isn’t much room for is hypocrisy. Or threats. Or intimidation.

Any old union guy or girl knows that.

For the sake of folksy-bio accuracy, perhaps it’s time for Mr. Pallister to lean more heavily on his farm-raised roots and his past as an athlete, a teacher and a self-made business success.

"Old union guy?"

Enough, already.