Pallister takes aim at COVID scofflaws, defends pandemic response at party’s online AGM

People ignoring public health rules once again found themselves in Brian Pallister’s crosshairs on Saturday morning, when the Manitoba premier applauded his government’s handling of the pandemic and reiterated the need to come down hard on rule breakers.

Pallister made the remarks at the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba’s annual general meeting, which was moved online this year because of the pandemic.

The premier specifically called out people protesting against pandemic restrictions, saying he supports the right to protest, but not when it puts people at risk.

“People have rights, but they also have responsibilities. And when they are killing each other and other people through their stupidity, then there have to be consequences for that,” he said.

“Right now, in the same communities where they have some blockhead organizing a protest and not wearing a mask and telling everybody else they have the right not to [wear one], there’s people dying, 100 yards away.

“It doesn’t make any sense and I don’t have much patience for it.”

A protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Steinbach last weekend drew criticism from Pallister and Justice Minister Cliff Cullen, who called protesters’ actions unacceptable.

Manitoba’s chief public health officer also raised concerns on Friday about the spread of the illness in that part of the province, with the Steinbach health district seeing an alarming 40 per cent 10-day test positivity rate.

At Saturday’s meeting, Pallister also accused the NDP’s Wab Kinew of riling people up, after the Opposition leader suggested Revera — the for-profit company that runs both the Maples and Parkview care homes, which have seen Manitoba’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks — should be run out of town.

The premier suggested to party members and supporters who attended the video conference that those comments later led people to organize protests condemning his government’s handling of the pandemic.

“Was it coincidental that, two or three days later, there’s a bunch of fake blood splashed all over the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority? Is it coincidental there were protests and people throwing garbage on my lawn? I don’t think it’s possible to believe that it isn’t connected in some way,” he said.

Pallister defended his government’s handling of the province’s second wave of COVID-19, as Manitoba maintains the highest per capita rate of cases of the illness among Canadian provinces.

“Every province west of Nova Scotia has its highest numbers in the last few days, including Manitoba. And so trying to make the political argument that Manitoba’s government missed the boat when everybody in the Western world is under attack right now is not a fruitful thing,” he said.

“Our team’s been working hard, right since the get-go.”

Pallister pointed to some of his government’s measures to help people financially impacted by the pandemic, including the Manitoba Gap Protection Program for businesses ineligible for federal aid and the Manitoba bridge grant, which will give $5,000 before Christmas to businesses that qualify, with the possibility of another $5,000 payment in the new year if needed.

Pallister said all Manitobans are in a position of leadership right now, and stressed the importance of staying calm and following public health advice instead of panicking.

“Panic is not a plan. Panic is a recipe for defeat in sport, for bankruptcy in business and for death in the midst of COVID,” he said.

“What we need is sober and responsible action and planning, and that is what we’re demonstrating we have the capability to do as a government.”