The right choice - but Pallister faces tough task 0
By Tom Brodbeck
Brian Pallister isn't new to politics, but he's the closest thing Manitoba's Progressive Conservative party has right now to inject new life and energy into an organization that's been in desperate need of a political tire-pumping for years.
Pallister is the party's new leader. He won by acclamation over the weekend because nobody else vied for the job. But despite the absence of a leadership race, the insurance and financial planning firm owner is, in many ways, just what the party needs right now.
Pallister is an in-your-face politician. He's loud, arrogant - in a good way for a politician - and he doesn't back down to anyone.
He's not terribly popular in pockets of Manitoba where he needs to be - primarily in the City of Winnipeg. But what he lacks in profile, he makes up for in political aptitude, grit, experience and to some degree, political success.
Pallister has waged many political battles in his time, and he helped lead the lonely charge in the federal "unite the right" campaign last decade. As a government services minister under the former Gary Filmon government in the 1990s, Pallister quarterbacked a sweeping review of provincial government red tape.
The lanky, 6-foot-8 former Brandon Bobcats basketball player always stood out in the Manitoba legislative assembly as an MLA - his long legs protruding from the small confines of the government backbenches and his cocky tone heard above the fray of the chamber as he taunted NDP opponents across the floor.
If there ever was an individual made for politics, it's Brian Pallister.
But the new leader doesn't have an easy road ahead of him. His party is in disarray, having lost its political identity and raison d'être years ago. A party that once stood for smaller government, lower taxes and balanced budgets has been pulled in competing directions in recent years and is now confused about where it stands on Manitoba's political spectrum.
In last year's election under outgoing chief Hugh McFadyen, the party even unveiled a platform that pledged to spend more tax dollars than their NDP rivals and push the province further into debt.
To say Pallister has his work cut out for him before he can bring his party to the promised land is like saying the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have some work to do before they can become Grey Cup contenders again.
So here are a few tips for the incoming leader as he prepares to take the helm of the beleaguered Tory party:
1 Pallister has to bring the principles of fiscal conservatism back to his party. The Tories have lost that. He needs to talk about balancing the books and repairing the province's balanced budget legislation, which has been gutted by the NDP.
2 Manitoba has a massive tax gap with other Canadian provinces. It now has the second-highest income taxes in Canada for middle and upper-income families. Pallister has to make it a priority for his party to bring taxes in line with other provinces.
3 Manitoba has among the highest violent crime rates in the country and Winnipeg remains the Violent Crime Capital of Canada. Pallister has to turn his party into the law-and-order party of Manitoba and take a zero-tolerance position when it comes to dealing with repeat, violent offenders.
4 The first thing the NDP did when they won power in 1999 was to bring in pro-union labour laws, scaring private investment away from Manitoba. This province needs fair labour laws and Pallister can't be afraid of taking on the union bosses in this province.
5 And finally, bureaucratic spending in health care is out of control. Pallister has to dig a lot deeper than his party has in the past to expose the waste and mismanagement in the health-care system, particularly within the regional health authorities.