In the Manitoba general election, 2016, Pallister and the Progressive Conservative party won a majority government, ending nearly 17 years of NDP governance.
Pallister was born in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, and holds Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees from Brandon University. He worked as a high school teacher in rural Manitoba from 1976 to 1979, where he also served as the local union rep, and later became a chartered financial consultant, serving as chair of the Canadian Insurance Agents Advisory Council (Sunlife). Pallister is also a skilled curler, and won the provincial mixed curling championship in 2000. This qualified him for the 2001 Canadian Mixed Curling Championship, finishing with a 3-8 record in second last place.
Pallister began his political career at the provincial level, winning a by-election in Portage la Prairie on September 15, 1992 as a candidate of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba. He entered the provincial legislature as a backbench supporter of the Filmon government, and pushed for balanced budget legislation. In 1993, he endorsed Jean Charest's bid to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
He was re-elected in the 1995 provincial election, and was sworn into cabinet on May 9, 1995 as Minister of Government Services. He carried out reforms that eliminated almost 3,000 pages of statutory regulations as part of a government campaign against any type of regulations, presided over changes to the Manitoba Disaster Assistance Board, and oversaw provincial flood claims. He stepped down from cabinet on January 6, 1997 to prepare for his first federal campaign.
Pallister defeated Paul-Emile Labossiere to win the Progressive Conservative nomination for Portage—Lisgar in the 1997 federal election, and formally resigned his seat in the legislature on April 28, 1997. He lost to Reform Party incumbent Jake Hoeppner by 1,449 votes.
There were rumours that Pallister would campaign to succeed Gary Filmon as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba in 2000, but he declined.
Pallister campaigned for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative Party in 1998, on a platform designed to win back voters who had left the party for Reform. His supporters included former cabinet ministers Don Mazankowski and Charlie Mayer, Senator Consiglio Di Nino, and Jim Jones, the sole Progressive Conservative representative in the Canadian House of Commons from Ontario. He finished fourth on the first ballot of the 1998 Progressive Conservative leadership election with 12.5% support, behind David Orchard, Hugh Segal, and the eventual winner, former Prime Minister Joe Clark. He withdrew from the contest a few days later, and declined to endorse another candidate. Pallister said that Progressive Conservatives had "voted for the past", and had missed an opportunity to renew themselves.
In July 2000, Pallister wrote an open letter to Joe Clark announcing his intent to run in the next federal election with a dual endorsement from the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance associations in Portage-Lisgar. The latter party was a successor to Reform, and emerged from the efforts of Reformers to merge with Blue Tory elements in the Progressive Conservative Party who were opposed to Clark's Red Tory leadership. Clark had previously rejected Pallister's proposal as a violation of the Progressive Conservative Party's constitution, and did not respond to the letter. As a result, Pallister left the Progressive Conservatives and joined the Alliance on August 17, 2000. He won his new party's nomination for Portage—Lisgar over Dennis Desrochers and former MP Felix Holtmann, in a contest marked by some bitterness.
Pallister was elected to the House of Commons in the 2000 general election, defeating his nearest opponent by over 10,000 votes. The Liberal Party won a majority government, and Pallister served on the opposition benches. He did not openly endorse any candidate in the 2002 Canadian Alliance leadership election.
The Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties merged on December 7, 2003, and Pallister became a member of the resulting Conservative Party of Canada. He initially considered launching a bid for the new party's leadership, but instead endorsed outgoing Alliance leader Stephen Harper for the position. He was easily re-elected in the 2004 election, in which the Liberals were reduced to a minority government. In July 2004, he was appointed to the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet as critic for National Revenue.
Pallister gained increased national prominence in September 2005 after drawing attention to $750,000 worth of apparent spending irregularities in the office of David Dingwall, the Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Canadian Mint. Dingwall resigned after the accusations were made public, but later claimed that his expenditures were inaccurately reported and fell within official guidelines. An independent review completed in late October 2005 found only minor discrepancies in Dingwall's expenses, amounting to less than $7,000 in total. Pallister criticized this review as "little more than a whitewash", and argued that the auditors failed to include numerous ambiguous expenses in their findings.
Pallister sang a parody of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two" in the House of Commons on October 3, 2005, during the "Statements by Members" session before Question Period. The adjusted lyrics attacked David Dingwall and the Liberal government. The Speaker ruled him out of order.
Prior to the 2006 federal election, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that some Manitoba Progressive Conservatives were trying to persuade Pallister to challenge Stuart Murray for the provincial leadership. Murray subsequently resigned, after 45% of delegates at the party's November 2005 convention voted for a leadership review. A subsequent Free Press poll showed Pallister as the second-most popular choice to succeed Murray, after fellow MP Vic Toews. Pallister campaigned for re-election at the federal level, and was noncommittal about his provincial ambitions.
Pallister was easily re-elected in the 2006 campaign. The Conservatives won a minority government, and Pallister requested that incoming Prime Minister Stephen Harper not consider him for a cabinet portfolio while he was making his decision about entering provincial politics. On February 17, 2006, he announced that he would not seek the provincial party leadership and would remain a federal MP. He was appointed as chair of the House of Commons standing committee on Finance, and in 2007 indicated that he wanted to remove financial access to offshore tax havens such as Barbados. Later in the year, he was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Trade and to the Minister for International Cooperation.
While running for re-election in 2006, when asked in an interview about his future in federal politics, Pallister responded by saying "I am copping what's known as a woman's answer, isn't it? It's a sort of fickle kind of thing." His statement drew the criticism of Liberal Party candidate Anita Neville, who found his remark came off as being chauvinistic and sexist.
Pallister surprised political observers in January 2008 by announcing that he would not run in the next federal election.
Following the 2011 provincial election, Hugh McFadyen announced his resignation as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba. On April 11, 2012, Pallister announced his intention to seek the party's leadership.
On July 28, 2012, he became the presumptive nominee when the nomination process closed with no other candidates entered, and was acclaimed as leader on July 30, 2012. Two months later, he easily won a by-election for McFadyen's seat of Fort Whyte.
In 2013, when filming a holiday greeting, Pallister referred to atheists as infidels. Pallister said that he never intended to offend anyone with the statement.
During a debate in the Legislature on November 24, 2014, Pallister expressed his personal disdain for Halloween when talking about the NDP's PST tax increase. Pallister compared the government's move to that of the holiday and going as far as stating Halloween was bad for the integrity of children. The video went viral a year after the statement was made.
On April 14, 2016, a CBC News report revealed that Pallister had traveled to the Central American nation of Costa Rica 15 times since elected to Manitoba MLA in 2012. Since then, Pallister spent about 240 days either in Costa Rica or en route. Writing for the Winnipeg Free Press, columnist Dan Lett suggested that Pallister had previously lied about his travels.
The matter of Costa Rica placed Pallister on the hot seat just days before the Manitoba general election 2016. On April 16, and at the request of Canadian news media outlets, The Costa Rica Star published the results of an investigation into the assets owned by Pallister in Costa Rica, which include three pieces of real estate in the upscale coastal town of Tamarindo Beach. A spokesperson for Pallister's party denied the public records investigation conducted by The Costa Rica Star, which prompted rival candidate Dave Chomiak of the New Democratic Party to call on Pallister to tell the truth about his travels and his business interests in Costa Rica.
Despite these claims, Pallister's Tories went into the election having led in most opinion polls for almost four years. He led his party to a decisive victory over the NDP, claiming 40 of the 57 available seats in the legislature – the biggest majority government in Manitoba history.
He stated publicly in April 2016 in response to criticisms of his provincial caucus (composed of 32 white men, 8 white women, 2 persons identifying as Indigenous, 1 person with a disability, and 1 person of colour) that: "As the father of two daughters I believe they should have equal opportunity in life, but they should also understand that merit is what matters most."
All electoral information is taken from Elections Canada and Elections Manitoba. Provincial expenditures refer to individual candidate expenses. Italicized expenditures refer to submitted totals, and are presented when the final reviewed totals are not available.