A retired Pallister was not forgotten when the fall return from Question Period
Retired Premier Brian Pallister was nowhere to be found in the Manitoba legislature today, but his name was on everyone’s lips during the first question period of the fall sitting.
The NDP used numerous opportunities on Wednesday to draw comparisons between the current Progressive Conservative government and the former Prime Minister whose popularity has plummeted in his final months as an elected official.
“We all know the damage Brian Pallister has done to this province,” said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
“This is why he no longer sits in this chamber. This is why these members kicked him out of his office,” Kinew said, pointing to Tory MPs across the chamber.
“They have to tell Manitobans, are they supporting his plan or not?
Kinew argued that the provincial budget – which the government is working to pass in a shortened six-day fall sitting – is an extension of Pallister’s nefarious agenda.
Five banknotes in the trash
Meanwhile, new Prime Minister Kelvin Goertzen called on Kinew for slandering a budget with significant new investments in healthcare and education.
Taking office as prime minister after Pallister left in September, Goertzen described himself as a “guardian” until the Progressive Conservatives chose a new leader on October 30. He has promised a clean slate for his replacement to make his own decision.
To that end, Goertzen officially withdrew five bills on Wednesday that the NDP delayed last spring. The bill that sparked the most controversy was Bill 64, the beleaguered education reform plan that allegedly toppled English school boards.
The other bills scrapped are those that would have cracked down on protests interfering with critical infrastructure, such as railroads, and one that would temporarily let the government set electricity tariffs.
A bill removing the requirement for binding arbitration after a 60-day dispute between a union and an employer no longer exists, as well as a bill that could have led to the privatization of the sale of alcohol .
The withdrawal of the bills drew loud and categorical applause from NDP members of the legislature, which the party called a victory for Manitobans. The party held a press conference in which they took out a trash can to literally throw away copies of Pallister’s invoices.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s not a sign of weakness when a government listens to people. I think it’s a sign of strength,” Goertzen said.
He said the new party leader – Heather Stefanson or Shelly Glover – will decide whether any of those five bills need to be revived. Goertzen noted that there was not as much controversy surrounding the bill for more private alcohol sales.
On Wednesday, the Conservatives introduced a bill, the Budget Implementation and Tax Status Amendments Act, which would bring certain tax changes into effect.
It includes a new “Netflix tax,” as it’s sometimes called, as well as a tax credit for teachers who buy school supplies out of pocket – something some educators have decried.
Repeated references to Pallister aside, all three parties in the legislature have followed tradition in paying homage to the retired party leader.
Goertzen commemorated Pallister’s tenure in politics, drawing attention to the time he spent building the party and leading the Conservatives to two back-to-back majority governments.
“The pandemic has forced elected leaders to make decisions that have deeply divided society. These have come at a personal cost to everyone, including elected officials, and they have also taken their toll on Mr. Pallister and his family.”
On a playful note, Goertzen joked that he had heard a rumor that Pallister might have a “place in the south,” an obvious reference to his vacation home in Costa Rica.
“If this is true, my colleagues wish him many sunny days and safe hiking trails,” said Goertzen, adding that he hoped the challenges of the life of an elected official would fade in his memory but not his achievements.
Kinew recalled his first meeting with Pallister at a big gala dinner in 2013 or 2014. He recalled the future prime minister grabbed him by the arm, leaned over and said “you’d do a hell of a thing. deputy”.
“I would like to think that I have vouched for him over the years, but maybe for a different party than the one he had in mind,” Kinew said.
Kinew and Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont both said they often disagree with Pallister, but thanked him for his decades of public service.
After Question Period, Lamont lamented the NDP for constantly bringing up Pallister’s legacy in reference to the party’s current decisions.
“I notice that Brian Pallister really seems to miss the NDP,” said Lamont.
“I don’t know if they’re the only ones in Manitoba feeling that way, but the point is he’s not here anymore and we have to face a fourth wave [of the pandemic] and they are fighting overwhelmingly old battles. “