In defending his government’s unprecedented introduction last fall of 19 bills without any accompanying text that could be studied by the opposition or the public, Premier Brian Pallister admonished the NDP for its procedural tactics and offered a stern affirmation that his is "the elected government of Manitoba."
The implication, which was accompanied by a pointed reminder that "the Opposition (should) not... try to pretend that they are the government; they are not," is that there should be no questioning the right of the duly elected Progressive Conservative government to formulate and enact policies in what it perceives to be the best interest of Manitobans.
Manitoba promises referendums on large projectsClick to Expand
Posted: 12:02 PM Mar. 11, 2021
WINNIPEG - Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister promised Thursday to ensure that any large capital projects in the future will be put to a public referendum before they can go ahead.
Pallister's comments follow a report last month by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall about billions of dollars in cost overruns on two megaprojects at Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro.
Or, to put it in more colloquial parlance: "Government’s gonna govern." Which is a fundamental truth of representative democracy, and which Mr. Pallister might have done well to keep in mind Thursday as he served up a purely populist declaration that he intends to introduce legislation requiring all future major capital projects in the province to be subject to public referendum.
The premier, who seems intent on getting maximum mileage out of the recently released report by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall — which is highly critical of Manitoba Hydro’s deficit-ballooning operations under the previous NDP government — said under the hinted-at legislation, major projects ranging from Hydro dams to government-run casinos would be subject to referendum votes before being allowed to move forward.
"Manitoba Hydro does, naturally, like to build dams," Mr. Pallister explained. "If they want to build another one, then they have to ask (the public)."
It’s a perspective that is as preposterous as it is populist. And given the current provincial government’s aggressive, bill-laden agenda for the just-opened legislative session, it’s apparent Mr. Pallister sees it as both his duty and his right to use his majority mandate to shape Manitoba’s public policy for the near-to-medium term.
One is left with the inevitable conclusion that the premier’s referendum-requirement assertion amounts to another variation in a form of performance art for which he has demonstrated an ever-growing affinity: political theatre. Defaulting to public-opinion polling as the lodestar of legislative intent is both an abrogation of political responsibility and a flimsy plea for popularity.
Lapsing lazily into political theatre for the sake of scoring a few political points serves neither the public nor the ruling party well.
When the people vote you into office, the election result states definitively that they trust you to deliver what you have promised and govern in a manner that reflects the values and principles they have endorsed. And those same people know, as surely as Mr. Pallister does, that default referendums are a recipe for public-policy paralysis.
During Thursday’s briefing, one reporter wisely asked the premier if he believes the province’s most important capital project ever — the Red River floodway — could have been built had it been subject to referendum approval. Mr. Pallister’s tepid response was that "a case could have been made then and was made very effectively."
Except, of course, history shows the floodway mega-project to have been hugely controversial, and that the full determination of premier Duff Roblin was required — at great political risk — to get the ditch done. Being subject to referendum would almost certainly have scuttled the initiative — as it likely would have hobbled such now-beloved local landmarks as The Forks and Bell MTS Place long before the first shovels hit the ground.
Lapsing lazily into political theatre for the sake of scoring a few political points serves neither the public nor the ruling party well. Mr. Pallister and his Progressive Conservative colleagues would be well advised to remember this and to govern themselves — and us — accordingly.