Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister shared parting words for his caucus colleagues Monday after some sharp criticism by MLA’s in his own party about his government’s new rules about masks and mandatory vaccines.
“When you start acting like the opposition, you should prepare to be in the opposition,” Pallister said at a news conference that day.
“When you do things the other team likes, you’re probably not acting in the best interests of your team. It’s as simple as that.”
Those words are directed at elected officials who are decrying new public health orders.
Two MLAs with the Progressive Conservatives — Josh Guenter and James Teitsma — have publicly denounced the mandates, each arguing they go too far in restricting people’s freedoms.
The premier initially announced his plans to step down as leader on Aug. 10 but didn’t provide an exact date until now.
In a statement released on Monday morning, Pallister said he has told Lt.-Gov Janice Filmon that his resignation is effective 8 a.m. Wednesday. That is well before the party votes for a new leader on Oct. 30.
In one of his final acts as premier, Pallister donated $250,000 of his own money toward scholarships at Brandon University, his alma mater.
His government also donated $7.5 million toward the International Peace Garden, and he gave the premier’s highest honour — the Order of the Buffalo Hunt — to North Dakota governor Doug Burgum and the citizens of the state for sharing vaccines with Manitoba truckers.
Pallister hopes his government will be remembered for making a difference, even when it wasn’t popular.
WATCH | Pallister says it’s time to move on ‘for the good of my family’:
Part of the reasoning behind the decision to step down early was a desire to ensure the election of his successor is free of “any perception of any influence” from his office, the statement said.
Pallister repeated that during his news conference in Brandon.
There will naturally be “lots of emotion and hard feelings” during the leadership race and accusations around influence have already been tossed around, he said.
“The neutrality that has to be there and must be there [for a leadership race] is something I would not want to jeopardize in any way, shape or form,” he said, adding that any deep divisiveness could hurt the party, which still has two years to govern before the next provincial election.
Pallister told reporters in Brandon that he has seen past leaders hang on for too long “and I don’t want to be one of those.”
Pushing a reset button
Pallister’s departure provides an opportunity for the Progressive Conservative Party to start fresh, a political expert says.
“He’s leaving at a point in which the party is having some difficulties, but I think his colleagues are hoping that this leadership race will in some ways rejuvenate the party,” said Christopher Adams, an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
“It gives the party an opportunity to push the reset button. Whether voters will accept that button being reset is another question.”
Pallister believes Manitoba will thrive coming out of the pandemic.
The PC’s have had to make tough decisions over the past decade, but those will set the province up to lead the country in economic recovery, Pallister said, adding he would love to be part of that because he likes to build.
“We’ve been knocked for a loop in this pandemic, let’s face it, but I see great opportunities for Manitoba and for its institutions.”
Stepping away now is one of the hardest decisions Pallister has ever had to make, he said, but it’s time to move on for the good of his family and for the province to move forward with another premier and PC party leader.
In his statement from earlier in the day, Pallister said he leaves office “immensely proud of the bold new directions and transformations our government took to fix the finances, repair our services and rebuild the economy of Manitoba.”
“The greatest honour of my life has been serving as Manitoba’s 22nd premier.”
Pallister will remain on as an MLA to tie up some loose ends, he says, but likely won’t return to question period when it reconvenes in October.
He plans to make more time for friends and family and do some hiking.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said it will take years for the province to recover from the legacy left by Pallister’s government.
“Mr. Pallister is yelling ‘abandon ship’ at a time when we’re heading into another critical moment for the pandemic,” Kinew said at a news conference on Monday.
“The PCs have left Manitoba without a premier, they’re on their third health minister of this pandemic right as we’re heading back to school, and there’s a potential for a fourth wave.”
The race is well underway to find Pallister’s replacement, with three people declaring they plan to run for the leadership role.
To date, former health minister Heather Stefanson, former member of Parliament Shelly Glover and Progressive Conservative backbencher Shannon Martin have announced plans to run for leader.
With someone like Deputy Premier Kelvin Goertzen ready to potentially stand in as interim premier until a new leader is chosen, Adams said Pallister is likely “leaving with the sense that there’s somebody who can competently step into his shoes.”
Although the interim premier hasn’t been announced, Adams is pretty convinced it will be Goertzen, who has been a Progressive Conservative MLA since 2003.
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