Manitoba Tory leader wishes 'infidel atheists' all the best for the holidays

WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s Opposition leader has offered his holiday wishes to groups of people including “infidel atheists,” leaving online commentators divided as to whether the phrase was insulting or an awkward attempt at humour.

Brian Pallister gave an impromptu holiday message last week to a citizen journalist armed with a video camera. In the recording, which has thousands of views on YouTube, Pallister offers seasonal greeting to Christians, Jews and others.

“All you infidel atheists out there, I want to wish you the very best also,” the Progressive Conservative leader says on the video.

“I don’t know what you celebrate during the holiday season. I myself celebrate the birth of Christ, but it’s your choice, and I respect your choice. If you wish to celebrate nothing and just get together with friends, that’s good too.”

New Democrat and Liberal party faithful were among the first to spread word of the video on social media. The video was viewed thousands of times over the weekend, spawning a wide range of reaction.

“Merry Christmas to you, from one infidel atheist to a bigoted ‘Christian.’ Judge not lest ye be judged,” read one comment on Twitter.

“I wonder at what point in the video did Brian Pallister start to think he probably should have kept his mouth shut,” read another.

Others characterized the message as a clumsy attempt at humour and pointed out that Pallister’s use of the word is backed by some dictionaries, which define infidel as someone who either does not believe in a particular religion or holds no religious belief.

The head of the Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba said Pallister’s words were equal parts clumsy and offensive, especially given the way the term infidel is used in other parts of the world.

“Being a non-believer or an infidel from the local dominant religion can be almost dangerous to one’s life,” Donna Harris said.

Pallister didn’t directly apologize Monday.

He asked for forgiveness while at the same time defending his use of the word infidel.

“I used a word that means what it means,” Pallister told reporters.

“I’d just ask people in Manitoba, I hope, to forgive me at this time of year if they think I stepped on their toes, but I didn’t. I sincerely just meant to include everyone in my best wishes.”