Brian Pallister, the premier who hates to be the bearer of bad news

Nearly eight months into the pandemic, it’s fair to allow Manitoba’s premier some latitude in deciding when he chooses to speak to the news of the day and when he decides to allow some other official, elected or otherwise, to address the public.

Friday was one of those days when Brian Pallister chose not to speak. Friday was also a very bad pandemic day for Manitoba.

The daily COVID-19 case count for the province was a devastating new record of 480. Three more deaths owing to the disease were reported. Manitoba set a new record for people in hospital with the virus that causes COVID-19. The five-day provincial test-positivity rate also was a new record.

To top it off, the province announced the Winnipeg region would soon be elevated to red on the pandemic response system, a major setback little more than three months after Manitoba was almost entirely COVID-free.

The task of delivering this bad news was handed to Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer. Pallister issued a short statement but did not appear before any camera.

Three days later, when the premier finally addressed the public, he claimed his absence from the public stage was a matter of routine.

“We used exactly the same approach on Friday with the announcements on new restrictions that we used when we were reducing the restrictions,” Pallister said during a Monday press briefing.

“We continue to use the same approach each time that we had a stage of change, and that is to have our public health officials deliver those announcements. That’s what we’re going to continue to do. That’s exactly the way we’ve done it right up till now and I don’t see why we’d suddenly change at the last minute last Friday.”

In other words, the premier claims it is Roussin who speaks every time Manitoba tightens or loosens restrictions.

This claim is false.

Earlier this year, Premier Brian Pallister happily stood in front of reporters each and every time Manitoba loosened up pandemic restrictions.

When there is good news to announce, the premier has chosen to address it.

For example, on April 28, the premier was very happy to announce the first phase of the provincial reopening strategy.

“I want to be clear this is not an announcement about a return to normal, not right away. Because the normal will be a new normal,” Pallister said when he announced hair salons, dentists and patios could reopen in early May.

“Things have changed. So the new normal for now, and for a long time to come, is what we are facing the challenges of addressing.”

The premier was also up to the task of delivering good news on May 27, when he announced the return of indoor restaurant dining, working out in gyms and the resumption of senior-centre operations.

“It’s truly a plan designed by and for Manitobans,” Pallister said at the time.

Pallister also had no issue with the design of a June 17 announcement that restaurants can fully reopen.

“The consensus, certainly, from people in the industry was that they could continue to keep their customers safe,” he said of an industry that was shuttered once more on Monday. 

“Now they’ll be able to accommodate a few more customers, and that’s good for their business, and that’s good for Manitoban​​​​​​s who want to support them.”

The premier also found time in his schedule on July 21 to accommodate a press briefing about increasing group sizes.

“Thanks to the efforts of all Manitobans, we continue to lead in recovery and have among the lowest COVID-19 test-positivity rates in the country,” he said at the time.

“That means we can continue our careful, balanced plan to restart our economy, give people back their lives and get Manitobans back to work.”

A simple Google search reveals that Manitoba’s premier addressed the public at each of the first four phases of the province’s reopening strategy.

But he didn’t stop with that good news. The premier also spoke on Aug. 12 at the launch of the Restart Manitoba ad campaign, which included billboards featuring a “Ready. Safe. Grow” tagline.

“We know that the two things go hand in hand — that if we have a safer society, we’re going to have people more confident to go to work, to shop, and create more job opportunities for those who deserve a chance to get back to work,” he said in Brandon.

It is in fact difficult to find a single occasion in Manitoba since the start of the pandemic where good news emerged and Manitoba’s premier did not make himself available to reporters.

Again, it’s fair to allow the premier some latitude in deciding when to speak. It would be far too forgiving to permit him to reframe the circumstances surrounding past decisions to better suit the optics of the present.