From the day he announced his run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba, Brian Pallister was getting the same advice from pundits and pals alike.
Don't let the NDP define you.
Don't let the NDP define you.
Don't worry, he said. I'll fight back. I won't give them a chance. I'll define myself.
And for a brief, shining moment we stood and applauded Brian Pallister for doing just that. He fought back. Aggressively. He showed more backbone than his two predecessors combined.
And he won. Maybe. Maybe, because it was a pyrrhic victory. He's been defined. Stick a fork in him. He's done. And, if it could be worse, he gave them everything they needed to do it.
We all know by now that Pallister just bought a mansion on Wellington Crescent for $2 million. When the story broke last week, he stood his ground. The house was a product of his success in business and in life, he said. He worked hard for his wealth and he was enjoying it. He refused to be contrite.
The only criticism of Pallister that the Winnipeg Free Press could garner was from Shannon Sampert, a left-wing associate professor from the University of Winnipeg whose area of specialization is women's and gender studies.
If public reaction was any gauge, Pallister won his point. Work hard, make as much money as you can and spend it on what you want, was the presiding sentiment. Who could argue against that, except hardcore socialists who applaud mediocrity because its "fair".
Hell, Pallister even got a deal on his place at $2 million. 761 Wellington Crescent was listed for $3.5 million in 2008 and $2.4 million as late as October, 2012.
But even if Pallister won the intellectual argument, he lost the Battle of Definition.
Emotion always trumps intellect. Even if people can't present a cogent argument as to why Pallister shouldn't buy a $2 million house, they know it doesn't sit well with them. They know intuitively that someone that rich doesn't understand their hardscrabble lives.
Pallister tried to address that in a news conference on Monday at which he laid out how he grew up poor and made himself rich. His life sounded straight out of a Dickens novel. The only thing he left out was walking two miles barefoot in the snow to school and eating dirt sandwiches for lunch. And that's the problem -- for him. His story was right out of the long gone past. It resonated only with people as old as he or older.
People understand wealth even if they don't experience it; they don't understand living in a house without an indoor toilet or a T.V. That's what Pallister can't grasp. So he's been defined as rich and out of touch.
The day of his news conference was the day hearings started into Manitoba Hydro rate hikes. As people complained they wouldn't be able to pay if Hydro keeps hiking rates by almost 4 percent a year for 19 years, Pallister was joking about paying $32,000 in property taxes on his mansion and fishing for sympathy.
When he ran in a byelection this summer to get a seat in the Legislature, he refused to tell people where he lived, saying it was a matter of security. Suddenly he was holding a news conference to brag about buying a house described in the real estate ads as:
"Incredible 1.7-acre river lot. Immaculate landscaping featuring patios, ponds, river rock dry creek, sport court. Over 9,000 sq.ft. living area. Restored to perfection."
Pallister should have known what to expect once he took possession of his Tara. If he had bought a multi-million-dollar home before running for the job of leader of the P.C. Party, where he lived wouldn't be an issue (except during the byelection). But buying it now is like rubbing peoples' faces into it. I'm rich, I'm living the good life and I'll help you little people if you elect me.
Define us aghast at that lack of judgement.
And just for the record....how much does Shannon Sampert make? According to a 2011 story in The Uniter, the University of Winnipeg student newspaper, Statistics Canada put the average salaries in 2008-2009 of full-time professors, associate professors and assistant professors at the U of W at $81,576.
That was the year a faculty strike was averted when a new contract was signed which, the Uniter reported, "includes an assurance that faculty at the U of W will earn similar salary scales to other Manitoba universities by October 2012."
"According to 2009-10 figures, the average salary of full professors, associate professors and assistant professors at the University of Manitoba was $113,443 a year."