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Pallister considering Tory leadership bid

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WINNIPEG -- Brian Pallister says he hasn’t made up his mind, but he certainly sounds like a man ready to throw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives.

In an interview Monday, the former member of Parliament and Filmon cabinet minister said he’s pushing for a provincial referendum on whether the Bipole III hydro transmission line should travel down the east or west side of the province.

And he has definite ideas on when a leadership convention should be held. "We would be remiss if we did not proceed with some type of a late spring (2012) timing," he said, arguing that a fall date would be counterproductive since it’s difficult to get people engaged in politics over the summer.

"The party needs to capture the enthusiasm of Manitobans and to do that it requires a race which Manitobans are attentive to," he said by phone from Portage la Prairie, where he co-owns an insurance company along with a financial investment firm. "A half-a-year campaign is plenty."

Pallister’s name soon popped up as a possible Tory leader after Hugh McFadyen announced on election night that he would step down once a successor was found. Until Monday, he did not return phone calls to reporters asking him whether he was interested in leading a party that took only 19 of 57 seats up for grabs in the Oct. 4 election — the same number it garnered in 2007.

"We’re talking it over," the 57-year-old father of two said of discussions he’s having with his family. While he owns businesses that are based in Portage, Pallister has lived in Charleswood since the spring.

He said he won’t be in a position to commit himself to a leadership run until after the Progressive Conservatives’ executive council sets the timing and rules for the race. That could happen by the end of November.

In the meantime, Pallister said, whether he runs or not, he plans to lobby for a provincewide referendum on Bipole. He said a referendum would give the issue the proper airing that it deserves. That hasn’t yet happened because of "bullying tactics" by NDPers, who unfairly target political opponents as privatizers if they disagree with them on Hydro, Pallister said.

The Conservatives have criticized the higher cost and greater disruption to property owners of the proposed western transmission line from the North.

Pallister said he regards himself as a "fiscal conservative," but refused otherwise to be pinned down on where he stood on the political spectrum.

He said most of the causes he’s tackled in his political career — be it safety reflectors for rail cars, promoting a registered disability savings plan and providing matrimonial rights for aboriginal people — are "very difficult to define on a right-left continuum."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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