Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has said that he plans to step down Wednesday.

Pallister, who announced his intention to step down earlier this month, said he has decided to leave well before the Progressive Conservative leadership vote Oct. 30.

Part of the reason, he says, is a desire to ensure the race does not become divisive.

“The dangers of not leaving (this week) are that false allegations will be made about me trying to influence the outcome (of the leadership vote),” Pallister said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“And I have not, in any way, shape or form,” he said. “I have only spoken two weeks ago to my cabinet and caucus and said, ‘I will be neutral. I wish you well. I would encourage you to make sure that this is a contest among friends.'”

So far, former health minister Heather Stefanson, former member of Parliament Shelly Glover and Tory backbencher Shannon Martin have announced plans to run for leader.

In a wide-ranging interview about his political career, Pallister indicated regret over some of his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but expressed optimism that the party will rebound from low polling numbers.

Pallister became leader in 2012 and quickly built up memberships and donations. Four years later, he took the party from the opposition benches to the largest majority government in a century. The Tories were re-elected in 2019.

Here are some quotes from an interview with The Canadian Press:

On low polling numbers: “If you govern with a view that you wish to be popular every day for four years so you can win the next election, you will not get much done … and what we have done is a lot.”

On personal likability and whether it is tied to electoral victory: “Who are the most unpopular Conservatives in the last 25 years? It’d be me and (former prime minister Stephen) Harper. Who was more likable? Well, I guess (former Manitoba Tory leader) Stu Murray was, (former federal Conservative leader) Andrew Scheer was a likable, cuddly guy. Look, it’s not about likability. It’s about integrity and competence.”

On his government’s reforms: “We went after every portfolio without exception. Child and family … education, health care, revamping the whole (emergency room) system … our Crown (corporations), (Manitoba) Hydro, changing the subsidy culture. That’s not easy. I was very unpopular — I am very unpopular — because a lot of the loud people like to be subsidized.”

On the COVID-19 pandemic and easing restrictions when vaccination targets were met: “We kept our word and, in hindsight, probably should have explained that we can’t do that now because 80 per cent (vaccinated) isn’t enough. It’s got to be 90 (per cent) and the Delta variant changed things.”

On being front and centre for COVID-19 news conferences: “I did take on the face of the pandemic … and you know why? Because I probably was going to leave. And when I leave, the face of the pandemic leaves. And so the opportunity for the PC party to renew and to grow … is real.”

On economic recovery coming out of the pandemic: “We’re on the rebound. I see it. Most people don’t see it yet. You’ll see it in six months.”

On returning to financial planning after leaving office: “I’ll get back and do succession planning. I love that. I love helping families. That’s how I started my business out of my car in 1980 and that’s how I built it. I like working with small business families, keeping the business in the family if they want.”

A timeline of major events in Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s political career:

Sept. 15, 1992: Pallister wins a provincial byelection in Portage la Prairie. He is re-elected in 1995 and elevated to cabinet as minister for government services.

April 1997: Pallister resigns his provincial seat to run in the federal election for the Progressive Conservatives. He loses to a Reform Party candidate.

November 2000: Pallister wins the Portage-Lisgar riding for the Canadian Alliance. He is re-elected under the Conservative banner and announces in 2008 he will not run again.

July 2012: Pallister returns to provincial politics and becomes leader of the Progressive Conservatives unopposed.

April 2016: Pallister leads the Progressive Conservatives to the largest Manitoba majority government in a century. The party captures 40 of 57 legislature seats.

September 2019: Pallister’s Tories are re-elected with 36 seats after he calls voters to the polls a year early.

July 2021: Pallister makes comments on Canadian history that Indigenous leaders say downplay the harmful effects of residential schools. His Indigenous relations minister quits two days later.

Aug 10, 2021: On the eve of a caucus retreat, Pallister announces he will not seek re-election and asks the Progressive Conservative party to begin planning for a new leader. The party selects Oct. 30 for a vote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2021.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press