June 23, 2018

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Without a word, Brian Pallister intimidates

Editorial

Several female members of Manitoba’s opposition parties this week accused Premier Brian Pallister of... something.

RBF, perhaps?

The abbreviation is short-form slang for a relatively new and decidedly coarse pop-culture descriptive, “resting bitch face,” which Wikipedia defines as “a facial expression which unintentionally appears as if a person is angry, annoyed, irritated or contemptuous, particularly when the individual is relaxed, resting or not expressing any emotion.”

Given its etymology, the insult was obviously concocted with a female target in mind. But in this case, it’s women who seem to be suggesting RBF is being employed with nefarious intent.

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Several female members of Manitoba’s opposition parties this week accused Premier Brian Pallister of... something.

RBF, perhaps?

The abbreviation is short-form slang for a relatively new and decidedly coarse pop-culture descriptive, "resting bitch face," which Wikipedia defines as "a facial expression which unintentionally appears as if a person is angry, annoyed, irritated or contemptuous, particularly when the individual is relaxed, resting or not expressing any emotion."

Given its etymology, the insult was obviously concocted with a female target in mind. But in this case, it’s women who seem to be suggesting RBF is being employed with nefarious intent.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Premier Brian Pallister eyes the Opposition benches.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Premier Brian Pallister eyes the Opposition benches.

Several female MLAs, led by Liberal Judy Klassen and including New Democrats Nahanni Fontaine, Bernadette Smith, Flor Marcelino and Amanda Lathlin, stated Tuesday that they are uncomfortable with the intimidating manner in which Mr. Pallister looks across the legislative chamber at them during government sessions.

"A complete hostile face," is how Ms. Klassen described it. "If you would ever see it, it just makes you feel like you’re an inch tall, and it’s very demeaning. I find it totally intimidating and I feel threatened when he does that."

To be clear: this is not a #MeToo moment. This is much more in the realm of an #OhPlease moment.

To suggest that the premier’s countenance in the legislative chamber — a room in which all manner of disorderly intimidation tactics are employed, from shouted insults and borderline-offensive gestures to desk-pounding dramatics and even the occasional mischievous use of provocative props — should be construed as a form of harassment is ridiculous in its own right and, more importantly, insulting to the many genuine concerns about workplace abuses that have been raised during the current long-overdue cultural awakening.

And coming, as it did, on the same day the province released a deadly serious report containing grim statistics about workplace harassment in the civil service — which prompted female MLAs from every party to speak out about a culture of toxicity and intimidation within the legislature’s walls — makes the  members’ complaint seem all the more frivolous.

Two facts should be acknowledged: first, the legislature is, by its nature, an intimidating place, and rightly so, given the gravity of the business that is conducted there and the contentious nature of democratic debate; and second, Mr. Pallister does, by his nature, cut an imposing figure — tall, angular and possessed of a natural competitive inclination that some might describe as intense.

The way he looks at you is going to be the way he looks at you. If you consider it to be RBF-inclined and it makes you feel uneasy, well, that’s on you. And if you’re an opposition MLA and you get the impression something you’ve said in the chamber has soured the premier’s mood, you should probably take that as a sign you’re doing your job properly.

To be sufficiently bruised by the premier’s non-verbal behaviour in the house that you feel the need to walk out should be taken as a sign you should consider another line of work.

Perhaps you could claim a workplace injury, and take some time off. After all, former NHL tough guy Chris Pronger once chided reporters for asking tough post-game questions by suggesting he was "day-to-day with hurt feelings."

Seriously, though, what the opposition members’ tactic this week did was make the process of speaking out against actual workplace harassment more difficult for those who take the matter seriously. The complaint should be withdrawn, forthwith.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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