Pallister avoids the mic as his own MLAs disavow his inflammatory remarks on Canada's history
Act of contrition no guarantee as premier keeps clear of reporters
Manitoba's premier is staying out of the limelight as he faces rare criticism from within his own Progressive Conservative party.
Brian Pallister has avoided the public eye for more than a week after several of his MLAs appeared to disavow the premier's recent comments that the people who settled in Canada had good intentions.
The nine days and counting in which Pallister hasn't faced the cameras is uncharacteristic amid the pandemic. This is the first week the premier has not faced a single question from a reporter, either through conference call or in-person, since early September 2020. He's spoken around 80 times, a count which excludes one-on-one interviews.
When Pallister does re-emerge, he will have plenty to answer for.
He has yet to apologize for his controversial remarks on July 7 that have been slammed as racist and insensitive.
"The people who came here to this country before it was a country, and since, didn't come here to destroy anything," the premier said while trying to soothe tensions after the tearing down of statues on the legislative grounds. "They came here to build."
WATCH | Brian Pallister has avoided public eye for over a week:
In response, Indigenous Relations Minister Eileen Clarke resigned from her position, in part because of Pallister's rhetoric.
'Troubled' by Pallister's comments
As well, Families Minister Rochelle Squires wrote she is "deeply troubled by recent events and comments" and Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard said on Twitter she could not "stand behind words that add hurt to traumatized people."
Mary Agnes Welch, a principal at Winnipeg polling firm Probe Research, says staying in the background might be a warranted strategy for Pallister.
"If the premier's approach now is to maybe avoid some of those inevitable questions and instead spend that time rebuilding relationships with caucus, perhaps gauging the mood of caucus and cabinet, doing a bit of bridge building, that is what I would say would be a smart move," she said.
David A. Robertson, who wrote a biting opinion piece in the Globe and Mail suggesting the relationship between Pallister's government and Indigenous peoples is shattered, wants the premier to reflect.
"He just needs to be humble enough to acknowledge the fact that he has made some grave errors and said some harmful things and unequivocally apologize," Robertson, an author and graphic artist based in Winnipeg, said.
So far, Pallister hasn't withdrawn his remarks, suggesting his comments were mischaracterized. Last week, he asked people to read what he said "and ask yourself if the remarks are justified."
Robertson isn't holding his breath. Pallister hasn't outright apologized for past inflammatory comments, such as characterizing divisions around night hunting as "becoming a race war" and complaining that prioritizing Indigenous persons for a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccinations was putting " Manitobans at the back of the line."
"He has a very, very good track record of saying something either moderately or overtly offensive and sticking by it," Robertson said.
Rick Fickes, a card-carrying Tory member for more than 30 years, wants the premier to take back his comments and the party to make clear it opposes Pallister's original remarks and unequivocally opposes residential schools. Otherwise, he plans to vote for another party in the next election.
The PC's position "has to be something that reflects my views if they want my vote," Fickes said.
On the same day of Pallister's last public comments on July 15, the new minister for Indigenous reconciliation, Alan Lagimodiere, stirred up anger himself when he suggested those who ran residential schools believed "they were doing the right thing." He apologized the next day.
He has spent the following days speaking with Indigenous leaders to atone for his remarks. A tentative plan to hold one-on-one media interviews was delayed for this reason, his spokesperson said by email. "He looks forward to speaking with media after further dialogue and sharing the knowledge that he is graciously receiving from Indigenous leadership, Elders and survivors of residential schools."
Robertson said it is important for Lagimodiere to demonstrate he has a nuanced understanding of the harms of residential schools the next time he speaks. He thinks Lagimodiere's next turn at the microphone should have happened by now.
Uprising seems uncertain
Welch hasn't heard much evidence Pallister is engaged in the same soul-searching as Lagimodiere, she says, even as Probe's polling suggests his popularity of him and that of his government was sinking well before his controversial comments on Canadian history.
"I don't think if you're the premier you are necessarily seeing this as a … 'the momentum is against me, I have to go, I can't continue to lead this caucus,'" Welch said, noting public criticism from his own caucus has mainly amounted to parsing tweets rather than a rebellion. "I don't feel like we're there yet."
Pallister has hinted he won't serve out his entire second term in office. The next election is slated for Oct. 2023.