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Inside The Perimeter

Writer and photographer Shannon VanRaes spends her days with the Manitoba Co-operator and her nights covering urban affairs in Winnipeg. Look for her in Metro every Tuesday.

VanRaes: Pallister's 'race war' comments echo divisive U.S. politics

Premier Brian Pallister's latest comments were strategic, albeit not intended for urban or indigenous audiences, writes columnist Shannon VanRaes.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

What do carbon pricing, night hunting and Virden have in common? 

Premier Brian Pallister.

Last week, CJ103 Radio reporter Heather Reimer released a recording made during a Progressive Conservative party luncheon at a church hall in Virden. It captured Pallister dodging a carbon pricing question by bringing up the issue of night hunting and blaming young indigenous men for starting a “race war.”

While Pallister’s disjointed response may seem like just another misstep in a political career notable for comments like “infidel atheists” and “I hate Halloween,” I’d argue his latest comments were strategic, albeit not intended for urban or indigenous audiences.

The PC government’s pragmatic stance on introducing carbon pricing, including a rejection of cap and trade, is out-of-step with the party’s base. In much of rural Manitoba, the term “carbon pricing” is quickly replaced by “carbon tax,” with many suggesting Pallister follow the lead of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who called the federal government’s carbon pricing plan “disrespectful” before threatening to launch a lawsuit.

And it’s that one word — disrespectful — that exposes the truth. Carbon pricing in rural Manitoba represents far more than an attempt to lower emissions, it epitomizes the growing divide between rural and urban, acting as proxy for concerns and resentment ranging from income levels and emergency response times, to so-called “liberal” values.

You only need to look at the backlash Alberta Premier Rachel Notley faced, including a protest against carbon pricing that dissolved into chants of “lock her up” as anti-immigration pamphlets were disseminated, to know that for some the issue goes far deeper than increased costs for agricultural producers or pricier gas.

Pallister knows this too.

But that the Premier would stoke racism and latent discontent rather than defend his government’s position on carbon pricing or address actual disadvantages faced by rural communities is shocking. The frightening take-away is that within the melting pot of climate change denial, racism, anti-taxation and anti-immigration sentiment that exists in our province — whether we want to acknowledge it or not — our Premier is willing to signal to his party’s base that while he won’t support them in a fight against carbon pricing, he can offer ideological backing of racially charged and divisive views.

It’s the scariest bait-and-switch I’ve seen in a long time. Particularly because it echoes the current political atmosphere south of the border, where appeals to populist sentiments and feelings of rural alienation have built a political order many saw as unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

It would be tempting to say that the Premier has a lot of work to do bring people together, to address the issues affecting our country cousins, to build bridges between indigenous and non-indigenous communities, but such a statement seems moot in light of his concerted efforts to divide Manitobans.

Instead I will say that Manitobans must vigilant against those who would seek to divide and conquer, because together, we are stronger.

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