The Problems with Pallister: carbon, cannabis, cost of living, and Costa Rica

Manitoba deserves leadership, which it is not getting

Graphic by Kelly Campbell.

Since being elected in April of 2016, Brian Pallister has proven himself woefully inadequate to the job of being our premier. There have naturally been gaffes, which we expect and accept of politicians, if they apologize – Pallister admitted, for instance, that it was “the wrong choice of words ” to refer to tensions over Indigenous hunting rights as “becoming a race war.” But it is his consistent lack of leadership and failure to legislate on issues of immediate concern to the present health, and future wellbeing, of Manitobans that speak to his failure to do what is, at the end of the day, his job – one for which he takes home $173,714 a year.

What, Pallister worry?

The most concerning abdication of responsibility on the part of our premier, as well as that which has the gravest consequences for Manitobans, is his inexplicable failure to produce a carbon plan. The federal government requires each province to create a plan to reduce carbon emissions by the end of this year; Manitoba and Saskatchewan remain the only provinces yet to produce one. If one is not created by the end of the year, Manitoba will lose out on access to a total of $66 million earmarked to help it in its transition.

By failing to create a carbon plan, Pallister is not only shirking his moral responsibility to do a part in preventing the worst of climate change: he is depriving the province of resources. His reasoning – that Manitoba deserves special consideration in reductions to be made because of the amount of hydropower it produces – is infantile. We will need a carbon plan in the future, and delaying the creation of one deprives us of federal funding in the present, makes our transition to a sustainable economy more painful in the future, and will rest forever as a moral stain on our relationship to others.

And what is Pallister doing, on behalf of all Manitobans? He is seeking a legal opinion on whether the federal government can impose on Manitoba what it should be doing on its own. Humans are typically bad at recognizing and reacting to long-term threats, but that is why we elect people to see to our long-term interests for us. The actions of the leader of our province on this matter looks like nothing so much as Nero fiddling as Rome burns.

Let them eat propane

If Pallister is failing to make plans for the long-term, slow-moving disaster of climate change, he is no better in a situation where an immediate, recognizable disaster calls for leadership. The town of Churchill has been without a rail connection since May 23, when flooding rendered inoperable the rail line that is the main source of supplies – including food – for the town of 900.  Leadership, in this situation, would involve the premier announcing that however difficult and whatever the cost, the people of Churchill could rest easy knowing that their families will have access to food over the fast-approaching winter.

Instead, Pallister’s approach has been to wait and see what approach the federal government takes to dealing with Omnitrax, the American company refusing to make the needed repairs to the line and which also controls the shuttered Port of Churchill. In a province unwilling to make sorely needed plans to address climate change, the type of emergency occurring in Churchill may become ever more common; it is terrifying that our premier seems to feel it beneath him to take a leadership role in assuring us that Manitobans, no matter how isolated, can depend on their provincial government in times of natural disaster.

Said Mike Spence, mayor of Churchill: “This is about the absence of leadership of federal and provincial elected representatives to this ongoing emergency.” The provincial government has put forward the stopgap plan of shipping propane to Churchill over the winter, so that its residents can heat their homes. Ensuring people do not freeze to death should be the bare minimum – not the sum total – of the government’s response to this or any other crisis.

Legislate it

The majority of Canadians, and the majority of Manitobans, believe that recreational use of marijuana should be legal. And it will be – starting July of 2018. This is based on legislation that will be put forward by the federal government, and Manitoba, being one member of a federation, must comply with all federal laws. Beyond introducing penalties for driving while high, Pallister has done nothing to set up a framework for the legal selling of marijuana in Manitoba, as he is required to do by July 2018.

He has called on the federal government to give him and the other premiers more time to write the required legislation – he wants a year’s extension – despite having not yet begun to draft any. Drafting legislation is what legislators do. It is their job. It is Pallister’s job. Imagine yourself, as a student, in his place: “I know I have 11 more weeks to complete this project, but I haven ’t started it yet; could I have a 12-week extension?”

What happens in Costa Rica…

And then there are the emails. Or rather, the lack of emails. Pallister spends an inordinate amount of time at a vacation home in Costa Rica. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a premier with enough pride in our province to vacation in the Whiteshell? While there, he has minimal communication with the government he is nominally the head of, while what communication he does have passes through his unelected wife and her non-government email account. This is not  acceptable for a normal adult in a normal job, let alone the premier of an entire province.

The most charitable interpretation of Pallister’s justification for this – he thought his actions were acceptable, and reasonable – is that he has no clear understanding of how modern technology works, or the expectations we have on how our elected officials do their job. The more likely explanation is that he was purposefully trying to avoid having the details of his communications becoming public record.

Whatever the explanation, in responding to questions on this subject, he makes it very clear that he is personally offended that anyone would dare question his actions.

L’état, c’est Pallister

Pallister’s style of governing seems closer to that of a king – or perhaps a certain sitting American president – than that of a premier. He addresses the issues he wants to address, legislates when he wants to legislate, and ignores the rest.

Being the premier of Manitoba is an excellent gig, if you can get it. In a world wracked by wars and famines, poverty and disease, Manitoba knows a peaceful prosperity that is eclipsed only by the wealthier provinces and states in the other great democracies of the West. To be the premier of such a place as this, is to be blessed with the task of shepherding progress, rather than burdened with the charge staving off disaster.

Brian Pallister does not seem to be up to the task.