Premier Pallister curses at NDP leader while facing heat for pandemic woes, apologizes

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has apologized for calling NDP Leader Wab Kinew an “asshole,” after being accused repeatedly Tuesday of failing to prepare his province for the stubborn third wave of the pandemic.

Pallister, speaking to a legislative committee meeting, alleged the Official Opposition leader was trying to impugn the hard work of public health officials.

“If he wants to go after the government and leave out health officials, he can do that,”  Pallister said, as he was interrupted by the committee chair as his time expired.

His microphone appeared to turn off for a moment, before the premier is heard again.

It’s “not taking the right approach … just being an asshole,” Pallister said in closing.

Pallister was then asked to withdraw his unparliamentary language by the committee chair, and he obliged.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew appeared to accept the premier’s apology. (Kevin King/The Canadian Press)

Kinew seemed receptive to the apology. 

“These are trying times, I think we’d certainly all acknowledge that, as do I,” Kinew said, before emphasizing  his criticisms of the pandemic missteps are directed at the political decision-makers, nobody else.

The premier expressed regret when it was his turn to speak. 

“First, I want to apologize to the member from Fort Rouge for my comment earlier,” Pallister said.

“I am adamant in my defence of our health-care personnel. They have given a lot in this time period, not just on the front line, but in the back rooms, too.”

Kinew’s question — which Pallister responded to with the insult — chastised the government for failing to act proactively, but did not appear to cast blame at public health officials.

Finger-pointing came up several times Tuesday, as Pallister and his government were questioned for acting too slowly as COVID-19 cases surged. The province has the unwanted title of the worst COVID-19 infection rate anywhere in Canada and the United States.

After some pleasantries about the Winnipeg Jets, Pallister launched his news conference Tuesday by blaming others.

“There’s an element of personal responsibility that shouldn’t escape us, but seems to be escaping some,” he said.

Finger-pointing ill-advised: NDP

In question period an hour later, the premier was accused of condemning some Manitobans without admitting to his own culpability.

The NDP leader took particular offence to Pallister stating some people in intensive care units were not vaccinated at the time of their admission.

“The premier showed us who he truly is today,” Kinew said. “The worst health crisis in memory and he blames people in ICU who are fighting for their lives right now.

“These people cannot defend themselves because they are in medically-induced comas.”

WATCH | Little sympathy for pandemic rule-breakers, Pallister says:

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister suggested on Tuesday that not enough of the people ending up in hospital have been getting tested for COVID-19 when symptoms arise, or get vaccinated as soon as they can. 1:06

In his remarks at Tuesday’s news conference, Pallister said too many Manitobans “did not bother to take an hour or two and go and get a life-saving vaccine.”

He said more than 70 per cent of COVID-19 patients suffering in hospital haven’t been vaccinated, and 43 per cent only got tested for the novel coronavirus after being admitted to hospital.

Pallister was accused by Kinew of victim-blaming, and glossing over the reality some Manitobans were not eligible for a vaccine at the time of their hospitalization and only became symptomatic shortly before they were rushed to hospital.

“How do we have a leader of this province that blames the very people getting sick when he had, within his authority, the ability to prevent this?” Kinew said.

Pallister was asked by reporters again Tuesday if he regrets not putting tougher restrictions in place earlier. He responded that Manitoba’s restrictions are among the strongest in the country and too many Manitobans haven’t followed the rules.