'Offensive': Brian Pallister under fire for saying Wab Kinew was 'handed more benefits than any premier'

Comments by Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister about his NDP opponent’s childhood are being called offensive by one former Indigenous chief; a Toronto political scientist says they will backfire and only draw attention to the “privileged life” the Tory leader now has.

Tory leader says his remarks about Kinew were 'the facts'

Pallister said Friday the remarks he made about Kinew in Thompson, Man., were “the facts,” when CBC asked him what prompted his statement. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Claims by Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister that he grew up poorer than his NDP rival are being called "offensive" by an Indigenous leader, and will only draw attention to Pallister's frequent jaunts to Costa Rica, says a political scientist. 

Pallister was referring to a recent study that found 56 per cent of Manitoba families have less than $200 a month to spend after bills are paid.

"That's where I come from," Pallister said. But NDP Leader Wab Kinew was better off, he said.

"Mr. Kinew does not come from a household like that. Mr. Kinew's narrative is that he was hard done by and he's on a road to recovery. The house he grew up in was triple the size the one I was raised in and mine didn't have any indoor plumbing.

RAW AUDIO | Pallister says Kinew was 'handed' more benefits

3 years ago
Duration 0:59
In audio provided to CBC News by the Thompson Citizen, Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister says NDP Leader Wab Kinew was handed more benefits than any premier in the last 60 years.

"We might have had spoons in our house but they were not silver. Mr. Kinew didn't go to a public school, he went to a private school. Mr. Kinew was handed more benefits than any premier in the last 60 years in this province. That's the truth."

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew says he's ready for anything the Progressive Conservatives say about him. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Pallister's comments were first reported by Thompson Citizen editor Ian Graham and were verified on Friday by CBC News.

"I believe his comments are offensive on the basis that a premier should have a better understanding of the historical discrimination that we as Indigenous people have endured for generations," said consultant Derek Nepinak, who is the former grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

"When we hear the word 'benefits,' what it's tied to is what I believe to be a false narrative about Indigenous people receiving benefits from being identified as status Indians or government programs and services.

"It ties into a language that I think is a discourse to me that is somewhat racially motivated. It's inaccurate."

Nepinak said he knew Kinew's late father very well. He was one of Nepinak's teachers but Nepinak said he is not an NDP member and hasn't been following the party's campaign.

'Had Costa Rica written all over it'

Pallister's comments weren't smart and will bring his vacation home in Costa Rica back into the news, said University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman, who has studied Manitoba politics.

"It just had Costa Rica written all over it," Wiseman said. The vacation home and how much time he spends there as premier has created loads of negative publicity for Pallister, and been ammunition for the opposition NDP in recent years. Kinew doesn't have a vacation home, his press secretary said Friday.

"By pointing out the house Kinew grew up in was larger than the house that Brian Pallister grew up in, of course, it makes people think OK, well, why don't they compare their current houses?" Wiseman said.

"And how about the house in Costa Rica?"

Pallister said Friday his remarks were "the facts," when CBC asked him what prompted his statement. He then walked away from the podium at a PC announcement. 

Nelson Wiseman, an associate professor in the University of Toronto's Faculty of Political Science, thinks Pallister's comments were an error in judgement. (CBC)

"I just think this was an error in judgment because that's what will jump out at every reader or listener who hears this because it draws attention to the quite privileged life that Pallister now currently enjoys," said Wiseman.

Kinew recalls going to garbage dump as kid

Pallister has a mansion on Wellington Crescent that was valued at about $2M in 2012 when he purchased it. Kinew's office told CBC Friday his Crescentwood-area home has a value of approximately $800,000.

Kinew said he spent the first few years of his life on a reserve and then moved to Winnipeg with his family where they lived in apartments for a number of years before getting a house. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"I've seen real poverty in my life and so I've never claimed poverty. When I was a kid, my friends' parents used to take me to the dump with them to 'go shopping' and so I've never claimed poverty because, you know, I have respect for people that I grew up with," Kinew told CBC Friday.

"It's part of what it was like growing up."

Kinew lived on reserve

Kinew said he spent the first few years of his life on a reserve and then moved to Winnipeg with his family, where they lived in apartments for a number of years before getting a house.

He said he attended public school until about Grade 10, when he got band funding to attend the University of Winnipeg Collegiate, where he graduated high school.

In the North End Friday, one voter took issue with Pallister's remarks.

"I'm assuming he's talking about (Kinew's) treaty rights. There are those but to access them is extremely hard. I don't think anybody really knows how hard it is to actually get those benefits and there's many, many, many barriers," said Jocelyn Friesen.

Jocelyn Friesen also took issue with Pallister's comments. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"I'd like to see him try and get any of those benefits. It took myself two years just to get my status card and the process was humiliating and degrading, and that's really harsh what he's saying there."

Kinew, a former journalist and rapper, said he's ready for whatever the Tories say about him on the campaign trail.

"I've got a thick skin. I'm ready for whatever the Tories are going to throw at me and if Pallister's going to throw a little tantrum while he's in northern Manitoba, that's fine because, again, this isn't about me, this isn't about him. This is about Manitobans and what they need from their next government."

Kinew also referenced Pallister's remark that Kinew "was handed more benefits than any other premier."

"I'm glad Mr. Pallister's finally facing facts and he's calling me the premier because I am going to form government on September 10th, so it's good that he's acknowledging that now. It'll make the transition easier."

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​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email:

with files from Kristin Annable and Lenard Monkman