Premier Brian Pallister was on the defensive Monday, after wrongly suggesting he had accompanied the province’s top doctor in announcing tough new public health restrictions last week.

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Premier Brian Pallister was on the defensive Monday, after wrongly suggesting he had accompanied the province’s top doctor in announcing tough new public health restrictions last week.

While unveiling new financial supports for business, Pallister spoke at a news conference about how the province was in a race against time to vaccinate the public before COVID-19 variants infect many more Manitobans.

Then he said: "Which is why, on Friday, Dr. (Brent) Roussin and I introduced new strict public health orders to help stop the spread of the variants and reduce the strain on our health-care system."

When a reporter pointed out the comment was "misleading," since the premier wasn’t at the 6 p.m. Friday news conference, nor at a Sunday announcement that schools in Winnipeg and Brandon were moving to remote learning, Pallister said his presence wasn’t necessary.

"I’ve been available over 125 times to the media since this pandemic started," he said. "I think maybe, on health measures, the most important thing is that we get them out there and get people following them.

"I think Dr. Roussin delivering that, and me being responsible and accountable for the decision, is a good way to go."

He noted Education Minister Cliff Cullen joined Roussin on Sunday for the schools announcement.

At a Friday morning news conference, Pallister called out "Monday morning quarterbacks" who criticized him for not acting sooner to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Facing criticism in the legislature Monday, he lashed out at the Opposition NDP for using the pandemic to score political points.

When asked by reporters why the province waited until Sunday — Mother’s Day — to let parents and teachers know schools would close in its two largest cities, rather than announcing it Friday, Pallister was unapologetic.

"You’re talking about school closure — that doesn’t occur until Wednesday. I think, as a teacher, (if) you’ve given me three days to prepare. That’s not bad...," he said.

"These decisions aren’t made lightly; they’re deliberated upon. When deliberated upon and made, they’re announced, and then time is given to act. That’s exactly how this decision was made. It’s a tough decision. It needed to be made. Right thing to do. Did it."

On several occasions during the pandemic, Pallister — and frequently, his health minister — have been absent when Roussin has announced more severe restrictions for Manitobans.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew criticized the premier for "trying to claim" he was part of Friday’s announcement when he wasn’t.

"The premier’s ability to look straight into the camera and say things that are not true is very unnerving," he said Monday.

Kinew accused the premier of "denying the facts" about the rise of the third wave in Manitoba, evading responsibility for it and engaging in "a bit of revisionist history."

"Here in Manitoba, we’ve been dealing with a third wave that’s been made worse because our government has not learned from the mistakes that they made in the first and second waves," he said.

"And so long as the premier and those who work with him continue to deny that they made any mistakes, they’re not going to learn."

When asked if the province should have imposed tougher restrictions on businesses and household gatherings sooner, Pallister said Manitoba has had some of the "toughest" restrictions in the country, then bolstered them when daily COVID-19 cases rose to 100 per day and again when they rose to 200 per day.

"Now, to suggest we shut down our economy when we have 100 cases, is to suggest the only way to avoid a lockdown is to have a lockdown — and that isn’t right," the premier said. "It wouldn’t be fair.

"What about the 100,000 people you put out of work when you do that? What about the mental health and well-being of families and individuals across the province?"

When asked why the province hasn’t released more pandemic modelling information to rally public support for restrictions by showing the potential severity of the spread of the novel coronavirus, Pallister said he’s in favour of releasing more information, but bows to the advice of public health officials.

Health Minister Heather Stefanson suggested to reporters Monday more pandemic modelling information might be soon released, but did not provide any guarantees.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

   Read full biography