Removing MLA from caucus was worst moment of 2018, says Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

In a year-end interview with CBC News, Premier Brian Pallister looks back on booting MLA Cliff Graydon from his caucus, offers his thoughts on the meth crisis and speculates on the biggest threat to prosperity for Manitobans.

Premier sees dwindling incomes as biggest threat to prosperity for Manitobans

Making sure there's money 'to pay all your bills,' Premier Brian Pallister says, is 'the biggest threat to the financial security of people, but [also] to their ability to find their way up in their life.' (John Einarson/CBC)

It isn't rocky relations with Ottawa, the growing meth crisis or massive changes to health care, but a decision to remove Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon from his caucus that Premier Brian Pallister views as the worst, or at least most difficult, moment of 2018.

"To discipline a caucus member, to exclude him from caucus because of his decisions to behave in a certain way, was both a sad thing and a proud thing, because we need to move our workplace into a place where it's safe for people," Pallister told CBC News in a year-end interview.

In the end, Pallister says the decision was made easier by his belief there must be a new atmosphere in every workplace, "where people believe rightly that they're supported and they can be confident in what they will experience, and what they will not have to."

More money at the kitchen table doesn't mean raising taxes.… It means finding better ways to get services to people.- Premier Brian Pallister

Looking back, would he have handled it differently?

"I think we handled it as well as we could. We handled it to the wishes of the person affected, which is really important. We handled it as sensitively as we could, for [the woman who accused Graydon of harassment]," Pallister said. 

He says Graydon was given a chance to change with the times, but just didn't in the end.

"We gave an opportunity for counselling and we gave an opportunity for change to happen, and it became evident that it was too much of a challenge and a challenge that couldn't be met," Pallister said.

His worst moment in 2018 on a personal level, he said, was recovering from injuries he sustained after multiple falls while hiking in New Mexico last year — injuries he says are the worst he's ever faced.

Meanwhile, the premier says his "absolutely favourite" thing about 2018 was a decision to challenge Manitoba's civil service to come up with innovative ways to improve how the provincial bureaucracy works and delivers services.

"We got dozens and dozens of beautiful ideas and we're acting on them, and they're improving services where we're making progress," he said.

Challenges ahead

When asked what the gravest danger to the prosperity of Manitobans in the year to come is, Pallister initially said there are "several," then paired that down to one broad theme — financial security and the taxes that threaten that.

Making sure there's money "to pay all your bills," he said, is "the biggest threat to the financial security of people, but [also] to their ability to find their way up in their life."

For Pallister, who often refers to his own family's financial struggles when he was younger, that means ensuring lower taxes. He repeats a phrase he uses in speeches, responses during question period and in general conversations.

Pallister says 'educating people to make the right choices,not the wrong ones' is key to fighting meth use. (John Einarson/CBC)

"More money at the kitchen table doesn't mean raising taxes. It doesn't. It means finding better ways to get services to people without having to go to people in our province who are already struggling to make ends meet and say, 'Give me give me another point on the GST. Or two or three.'

"Or 'Hey, you're a doctor. You make a lot of money. You're already the second-highest taxed in Canada! But why don't we tax you more?'"

Pallister says the government needs to do a better job with the money it already takes in. More taxation, he believes, would hurt low- and middle-income families the most. At the other end of the income scale, it poses the risk of losing doctors to provinces with lower taxes, he said.

Meth 'the drug du jour'

Another danger to Manitoban is the growing use of methamphetamine. 

CBC News asked Pallister if he knew someone who struggled with an addiction — and if that experience has affected his approach to fighting the spike in meth use in Manitoba.

"Of course I do. And I've seen the denial and I've seen the refusal to accept. And I've seen the lies and I've seen the deception and I've seen the disappointment to the family," he said.

"And you multiply that by a thousand times over now, with not just meth but with other addictions."

His Progressive Conservative government has been criticized for being slow to react to the meth crisis and repeatedly saying there is no evidence to support opening supervised injection sites.

Pallister calls meth "the drug du jour."

"A year ago we'd be talking about fentanyl, right? Opioids of various kinds. Next year we may be talking about something else we can't even anticipate right now," he said.

"We've got drug dealers and gangs who distribute this garbage and they affect people and they afflict people."

Responding to the meth issue will take more than just one solution, the premier said, but so far that doesn't include supervised consumption sites.

"Helping a person equip themselves to address that change is, of course, critical. Educating people to make the right choices, not the wrong ones — in particular working with children to make sure that the first time doesn't happen when it comes to meth," he said.

Kinew 'congenial' and creative, premier says

In the spirit of the holiday season, the leaders of Manitoba's three main political parties were asked what they admired about each other.

Pallister says he read NDP Leader Wab Kinew's book The Reason You Walk.

"He's a congenial person and I think he has a creativity that's a real gift," Pallister said.

As for Dougald Lamont, Pallister admits he doesn't know the Liberal leader as well yet, but says the recently elected MLA's decision to don an elf costume at the legislature holiday open house says something about the man.

"I don't have that kind of courage. I mean, seriously! To have the courage and self-confidence to just be you, in politics, it's pretty rare. And I don't think that is anything but an endearing quality," Pallister said with a slight grin.

For his own political courage, Pallister says only death or serious injury will knock him out of the game for the foreseeable future.

For the record, he says, he fully intends to lead the PCs into the next election.

2018 in review with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

3 years ago
Duration 5:14
As 2018 draws to a close, CBC News had a chance to find out what type of year it was for the three provincial political leaders.


Sean Kavanagh

Civic affairs - city hall reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than 15 years of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including as the CBC's provincial affairs reporter.


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