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Manitoba’s new premier attends Pride, but does he mean it?

Brian Pallister says his attitude hasn’t changed on same-sex couples

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, left, poses for a photo at a Pride Winnipeg rally June 5, 2016. Credit: Austin Grabish

Manitoba’s newly-minted premier kept his promise to make an appearance at Winnipeg’s Pride rally on June 5, 2016.

The Conservative premier, who once called same-sex marriage a “social experiment,” wore a James Taylor shirt, took photos with community members, and gave brief opening remarks in front of the Manitoba legislature.

Brian Pallister’s remarks, which lasted just under three minutes, did not make any direct reference to the LGBT community. They instead focused on Manitoba’s pride, the “unique differences” that make the province what it is, and two songs by Taylor that urge people to accept others for who they are and to shower people with love.

But has the premier’s stance on same-sex relations actually changed? Daily Xtra asked Pallister on June 5. He responded by offering a comment he’s previously touted about his support for same-sex couples.

“I don’t know. Thirty years ago I was advocating for equal rights for same-sex couples. My attitude hasn’t changed in that respect. We’re a more than open and accepting province. We’re a province that celebrates our people.”

The premier faced criticism during Manitoba’s spring provincial election from Manitoba’s NDP, who accused him of being homophobic.

The NDP also faced criticism for allowing Wab Kinew to run as an MLA for its party after a slew of Kinew’s homophobic and misogynistic online comments were made public.

In 2005, Hansard records show Pallister — speaking as a then-federal Conservative MP for Portage-Lisgar — called same-sex marriage a “significant social experiment.”

Pallister said traditional marriage had been endorsed around the world in the past as an institution because it “cultivates the necessary conditions for human flourishing.”

“Society is not bound to treat all relationships equally. We should regard all persons as equal, but we should not regard all sexual or social activity as equal,” he said during a 2005 debate in Parliament on same-sex marriage.

He also spoke about a local pastor and friend who said “it was good that homosexual people were coming out of the closets because those closets would be needed very soon for Christians.

“That is a fear that many, not solely Christians, in Canadian society have,” Pallister said, according to the Hansard record.

As a provincial MLA in 2013, Pallister and his party voted against an anti-bullying bill that required schools to accommodate students wanting to start gay-straight alliances.

Pride Winnipeg president Jonathan Niemczak called Pallister’s Pride appearance “really important.”

“It’s very symbolic to have the premier, the head of our government, coming out to speak to our community,” Niemczak said.

Pallister, speaking about criticism he faced during the recent campaign trail, said it’s unfortunate some like to play politics with the issue of diversity and tolerance.

“I’ve never tried to do that. I don’t believe in that,” he said.

“This is about understanding one another better,” he said. “Nobody should be left behind.”