On Sept. 1 Brian Pallister, Progressive Conservative (PC) premier of Manitoba, stepped down in favour of deputy premier Kelvin Goertzen. Pallister’s time in office was characterized most notably by his incomptetent handling of the pandemic. During the  announcement of his resignation, Pallister described his government as one that was run with “real integrity and scandal-free”. In reality nothing could be further from the truth: Pallister’s government was one defined by incompetence. He oversaw an administration which levied attack after attack against the working class of Manitoba.

Pallister became infamous across the country for his recent comments on Indigenous people. On July 7, only two months before his resignation, Pallister whitewashed the brutal history of colonization in Canada. He asserted that “people who came here to this country before it was a country, and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything, they came here to build.” These remarks were made after the statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II were toppled at the Manitoba Legislature on Canada Day. The toppling of these statues were among many outbursts of anger over the discovery of thousands of children’s unmarked graves at residential schools. These comments caused the resignation of Pallister’s own Indigenous relations minister, and drew condemnation from across Canada.

Even before the Tories formed the provincial government, Pallister was embroiled in scandal. In 2016 it was revealed that Pallister had spent 240 days travelling or in Costa Rica since his election as Tory leader. Pallister owns a vacation home in Costa Rica where he spent approximately one-fifth of his time since 2012. Pallister was even out of the country when the province was struck by major floods in the summer of 2014. During this crisis Manitoba went into a state of emergency and had to call in the military. The Tory leader even went so far as to lie about his whereabouts, originally stating that he had been in Alberta attending a wedding.

When the Manitoba PCs formed government in May of 2016, Pallister’s attacks on labour were his first priority. Pallister first interfered in the 2016 strike by the University of Manitoba Faculty Association, where he had secret talks with the university administration and directed them to pursue a wage freeze—and that failure to cooperate would lead to financial consequences. At his direction the university also kept this information from the strikers, a decision which led the university to be charged fines by the Manitoba Labour Board for unfair labour practices.

Pallister continued his attacks on workers by implementing legislation for a two-year wage freeze on all public employees. A coalition of unions are currently attempting to fight the freeze by suing the province. The Tory government also set about gutting the province’s Crown corporations by pushing them to cut eight per cent of staff in addition to an earlier mandate to cut their management by 15 per cent. Workers with Manitoba Hydro report that they are already feeling the effects of these cuts, with employees being pushed to take shortcuts in their work resulting in safety concerns for themselves and the public. Other public sector workers have taken a hit as well with more contracts, such as in road work, being given to the private sector.

Pallister of course took aim at a public institution that always sits in the crosshairs of the Tories and their austerity: public education. In 2017 they removed legislation that capped off kindergarten to Grade 3 class sizes at 20 students. With larger class sizes children do not receive as much individual attention and assistance in learning from their teacher. This is very harmful in the early years of childhood development and especially for those children with special needs. Not only are large class sizes harmful to children’s education but now with the COVID-19 pandemic they can be detrimental to children’s health. Large class sizes increase the risk of transmission of the virus, especially in elementary classrooms where children are too young to be vaccinated. Right now in Alberta children represent the highest rate of active cases of any age group and little is still known about the long-term effects of the virus in children. Pallister’s government did increase funding for schools slightly but when inflation is taken into account it’s actually a cut. The province’s universities have also taken a hit. In March of 2017 the Tories brought in legislation to allow tuition hikes of five per cent per year plus inflation. They went on to cut funding to post-secondary institutions in 2018 and 2019.

As with the Tories in Alberta, Pallister and his government have taken aim at Canada’s most cherished public sector, health care. Numerous emergency rooms have been converted to urgent care centres designed to only deal with non-life-threatening illness and injury. Three out of six of Winnipeg’s emergency rooms have been closed and other urgent care and QuickCare clinics have been permanently shuttered. There has also been privatization in the case of occupational therapy and physical therapy, which has diminished the quality of care and cost regular Manitobans thousands of dollars if they do not have health insurance to cover the treatment they need.

The assault on health care has already had deadly consequences, especially for the many remote northern communities in the province. In July of 2019 a man from Opaskwayak Cree Nation died after waiting over six hours for an air ambulance, a service that was privatized a year earlier. Another man died in October 2018 on a Greyhound bus. He was seeing a doctor after having received heart stents, hadn’t been offered a flight and his request for a travelling companion was denied. He was forced to take a 10-hour bus ride which ultimately proved fatal. Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Chief Marcel Moody said that patients being forced to take long bus rides for medical help is a common occurrence: “There’s incidents like this happening on a weekly basis.” Manitoba’s health-care sector was left ill-equipped to deal with the massive burden that the pandemic brought. There is no doubt that there has been more suffering and death due to the attacks made by Pallister and his government.

Pallister and his government have left the province a worse place to live for working class people. Constant attacks and cuts on public institutions have left them weakened and in a sorry state just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous Manitobans have continued to be further marginalized by policies that restrict their access to the health care their communities need and deserve, just so the bosses can pay less taxes and stuff more money into their pockets. All we have to say to Brian Pallister is good riddance. The next task is to kick out the Manitoba PC government.