By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
BOISSEVAIN, Man. — Brian Pallister outlined two final projects and warned against division in his Progressive Conservative caucus as he made his last public appearances as Manitoba premier on Monday.
Pallister announced $260,000 of his own money for new and enhanced scholarships at Brandon University, his alma mater.
Later, he promised $7.5 million in government funds for infrastructure work at the International Peace Gardens on the border with North Dakota.
“There are no easy decisions in life, and this has been one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to make,” Pallister said about his decision to leave. “I’ve seen past leaders try to hang on for too long sometimes. I don’t want to be one of those.”
Pallister, 67, said earlier in the month he was preparing to step down. After the Progressive Conservative party set an Oct. 30 date to elect his replacement, he said he would resign as premier Wednesday and stay on for a few weeks as a member of the legislature to finish constituency work.
The Tory caucus is to meet Tuesday to choose an interim leader.
Pallister said he “would have loved” to have stayed on to hold the annual premiers conference set for Winnipeg in October. But he decided to step aside early to ensure there was no appearance he was influencing the election of his successor.
So far, former member of Parliament Shelly Glover, former health minister Heather Stefanson and Tory backbencher Shannon Martin have said they plan to run.
Also on Monday, Pallister issued a warning to two backbenchers — James Teitsma and Josh Guenter — who have spoken out against the government’s vaccine mandate. He said the dissent hurts the party’s political fortunes.
“When you start acting like the opposition, you should prepare to be in the opposition,” he said.
“You were elected to be part of a team of government … you’re actually hurting your colleagues when you do that.”
Pallister took over the Tory leadership in 2012 and bolstered party memberships and finances. He led the party to the largest majority government in a century in 2016 and to re-election in 2019.
After fulfilling promises to balance the budget and cut the provincial sales tax, Pallister’s popularity dropped as the COVID-19 pandemic grew. Manitoba has had the second-highest per-capita death rate and was forced to ship dozens of intensive care patients out of province because of a hospital bed shortage.
Political analyst Paul Thomas said Pallister will be remembered for succeeding in his first term. But his belief in smaller government and lower spending made it hard for him to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact, Thomas added.
“His basic belief system made it hard for him to respond in an appropriate manner to the magnitude of the crises he was facing,” said Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
“He came up against an unforeseen emergency and that meant — grudgingly, slowly, reluctantly — he had to loosen the purse strings.”