As a keen observer of politics all over the place, it has been interesting for me to watch how certain political leaders have managed to respond to the Covid-19 global pandemic and it’s fall out. Some politicians have done better than anyone expected, others have been par for the course while some others have managed to sink to new depths in this important moment.
So far one of the worst performers during this time of crisis has been Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. He’s managed to consistently be tone deaf to what’s happening, has tried to do as little as possible to respond to the actual crisis while also trying to use the crisis to advance his own political goals. Heck, this is the guy who has been making major public service cuts during this crisis, trying to use it as cover for things he wanted to do anything. Of course, that approach has historically proved to be a failure, as it was that same approach that made the Great Depression that much worse.
As this crisis continues, Pallister has managed to continue with this approach, one that’s rubbed so many the wrong way. But there are certain events that come along that are nearly impossible to mess up, one which Pallister has right now. This year is the 150th Birthday of the Province of Manitoba, an important anniversary that’s a chance for politicians to wax poetic about their home and the people that live there. It’s a chance to put partisan stuff aside and be magnanimous. Heck, Pallister even used this birthday as an excuse to ignore his own fixed-date election law to call an early election last Fall, specifically because he said that election advertising restrictions “would prohibit his government from promoting the province to the world during the height of celebrations for Manitoba’s 150th birthday.” A B.S. excuse if there every was one, yet one he trotted out.
So you’d think that if you were so worried about ensuring this celebration went off without any partisan hitches, you would make sure that you set that example in everything you said and did around it. Well today the Pallister government put out a release feting Manitoba’s 150th and, well, let’s see if you can spot the issue with it:
You know what everyone, there are some things that governments do that are so easy to get right that you almost have to try to screw them up. A five-paragraph “Happy Birthday” message for the province falls clearly in those ranks. Writing a decent message on that is such a motherhood and apple pie kind of statement. It’s a chance to be warm, open, and embracing of everyone, even those who you see as enemies or you treat as such. Seriously, this is Day 1 stuff.
Yet in that statement Premier Pallister and his government managed to trip over the lowest of bars of dignity, completely ignoring Indigenous peoples entirely, making no reference to them in the past, present, or future. That’s especially galling given that the widely accepted father of Manitoba is none other than Métis leader Louis Riel. Writing a statement about Manitoba’s birthday that leaves out Riel is akin to writing a statement about Confederation and somehow leaving out Sir John A MacDonald. Something tells me that Pallister would never forget Sir John A, but that’s another conversation for another day.
But for the Pallister Conservatives, this is an ignorant snub that is completely consistent with how they have treated First Nations and Métis governments ever since they got into office. Pallister is the same Premier who unilaterally stripped the rights of Indigenous children in care (buried deep in a budget bill), unilaterally tore up negotiated agreements between the Métis and Manitoba Hydro, calling the compensation in that agreement “persuasion money.” He then went onto say that the Manitoba Métis Federation shouldn’t have “veto power” over a proposed power line to Minnesota while suggesting to the Federal government that they should butt out regarding Manitoba’s failure to properly consult the Métis. Also the Sagkeeng First Nation was forced to take Manitoba to court over the same project, saying that Pallister’s government didn’t do proper consultation with them and treated it like a “box-checking exercise.” And that’s just scratching the surface on how the Pallister Conservatives have viewed and treated Indigenous peoples and governments during his short reign to date.
When to take that history and add it to today’s birthday snub, it shows that even in the simplest of moments this government is showing an inability to govern for all or even treat all people who live in his province his decency and dignity. Any birthday message for Manitoba that completely ignores Indigenous peoples, their contributions and their importance to the province is one that is insulting. Seriously, this is either really stupid political work on the part of his government or a deliberate attempt to snub and ostracize the Indigenous peoples of Manitoba. Either way, it’s beneath the dignity of any Premier, even this one. Getting that statement right should have been a lay up yet here we are. So either this was gross incompetence or deliberate ignorance on the part of this government. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which it is, but the fact that this is even up for debate is as bad a sign as anything else.