One hundred days have passed since Brian Pallister took over as premier of Manitoba and his Progressive Conservatives replaced the New Democratic Party in government.
Ask Pallister about what he’s most proud of in his government’s first 100 days and he says, “Surviving.”
“We took a very ambitious agenda forward. I felt it was important to get the throne speech and our budget out there — the previous government hadn’t tabled a budget to give greater continuity in our delivery of social programs and … health care,” Pallister said in an interview with CBC News.
The PCs made a series of election promises and pledged to meet those commitments in its first 100 days in government.
Some of those promises have been kept, while others are a work in progress.
The Tories reduced the size of their cabinet, introduced legislation to repeal a vote tax subsidy for political parties and tabled theproposed protecting children act.
They also trimmed ambulance fees by a modest five per cent (on a slow drive to cutting them by half) and started a “value for money” review of government operations (KPMG was chosen to do the work).
As well, there was a commitment to municipalities to give them a “fair say” on infrastructure investments.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says he’s had several opportunities to speak to Pallister.
“I have been pleased with the level of communication between our offices on a wide array of issues that face the City of Winnipeg, including fair say, funding for infrastructure projects, and other areas of mutual benefit,” Bowman said in an email.
Several promises are not quite there yet
A health-care wait time reduction task force is still in its infancy, as is one for reducing red tape. Pallister says the latter task force will be led by Morris MLA Shannon Martin and will be up and running this year.
A premier’s enterprise team hasn’t been formed and announced yet, either.
The Tories’ 100-day promises were released before the April 19 election, with the party’s news release succinctly stating, “The first 100 days of a new PC government will immediately deliver on these 15 priorities.”
These days, Pallister says it’s important to “do the exercise properly and not rush.”
“I never committed to have those things proceed and be underway now. I committed to undertaking them or forming them, and we’ve taken action on many fronts already, but on these you want to get it right,” Pallister said.
Political observers see these task forces as key to Pallister’s drive to balance the provincial books and maintain and improve front-line services at the same time — and give the premier some breathing room.
“Those, in some ways, give him some political cover. He’s got time to make some serious decisions, while we are waiting for those task forces all to come back,” said Mary Agnes Welch with Probe Research.
Welch describes Pallister’s first 100 days as “pretty eventful” and expressed surprise at how modest his government’s first budget looked.
But Welch also believes the rookie premier has instincts about Manitoba’s political climate, especially in vote-rich Winnipeg.
“I think he knows that if he is going to have at least eight years in government — two terms — he’s going to have to keep the support of Winnipeggers especially, and Winnipeggers are pretty centrist. Right now, they are on side,” Welch said.
‘Pretty good 100 days,’ says analyst
Political scientist and author Chris Adams says Pallister has had a “pretty good 100 days” and has worked hard to build trust with Manitobans.
Adams cites a Tory budget that didn’t include massive austerity measures for keeping a lid on criticism. But it’s the next 100 days and more that Adams believes will start to tell the tale.
“We are going to have to see in the next 100 days what really are some of the projects that will be cancelled, what’s going to happen to the civil service, what’s going to happen with some things up north, especially the Churchill port,” Adams said.
Pallister’s government can be accused of some fancy footwork on the fate of the Bipole III hydro transmission line from the north. Instead of referring the matter to the Public Utilities Board, as promised in the 100-day pledge, it was sent to the board of Manitoba Hydro for review.
The government also took fire for its involvement with a World Heritage site designation for part of Manitoba’s boreal forest.
The Tories faced criticism following the dismissal of two members of the Winnipeg Police Board and when no government representative showed up for the inaugural pride parade in Steinbach this summer.
There have been mistakes
Both Adams and Welch acknowledged that Pallister’s first three months or so haven’t been entirely gaffe-free, listing stumbles on budget numbers, Manitoba’s stance on reforming the Canada Pension Plan and some confusion over a sick day for the premier.
Welch said despite being relatively even-handed in the first 100 days, the Pallister government has committed some “unforced errors.”
“They find themselves making stupid mistakes — stupid communications mistakes,” she said.
Pallister acknowledges the ball was dropped at times, but he candidly pleaded that it’s a rookie year.
“We are all new. So, we are not going to be perfect,” he said. “But you can’t let perfection be the enemy of constant improvement. So I take my first sick day in a decade — whatever.”
When asked what he regrets most about the first 100 days, Pallister takes a personal angle.
“Mostly I’ve been sitting too much and focused on this job — maybe a little excessively. Not spending enough time with my children or my wife to speak of, so that’s not a good thing,” he said.
“I mean that. I think you have to have a balance in your life and you have to have joy in your work.”