Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Goertzen Toews' successor?

Front-runner to fill vacant Provencher MP position, if he wants it

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Kelvin Goertzen, the eyes of Provencher are upon you.

The Steinbach MLA is the odds-on favourite to seek the Conservative nomination for the federal seat of Provencher, left vacant last week when MP and cabinet minister Vic Toews retired.

Goertzen is not the only potential successor; a long and interesting list of candidates is already being discussed in coffee klatches and email exchanges across southeastern Manitoba.

Ex-RCMP officer Wyman Sangster, now enjoying retirement at his Buffalo Point retreat, will generate interest. Also in the mix are Ted Falk, president and chairman of the Steinbach Credit Union, and Steinbach deputy mayor Michael Zwaagstra.

In the long-shot category is Lynn Rempel, president of Rempel Insurance, and Paul Smith, a Manitoba-born investment executive in Toronto who is chairman of Via Rail. All are promising candidates, and all will most likely wait until Goertzen decides one way or the other.

For his part, Goertzen said he will not make his intentions known until a byelection is called. Until then, he has said he's focusing on a demanding agenda at the Manitoba legislature, where in addition to critic responsibilities, he is the Opposition house leader.

Goertzen has filled the role of heir apparent in Provencher for some years now. It started in 2008 when Toews wanted to retire from politics and sought a judicial appointment. Goertzen had contributed significantly to Toews' campaigns and his wife, Kim, has worked in Toews' constituency office. It only made sense he would seek the nomination to replace his mentor.

Toews decided to stay when his plan for a judicial appointment was exposed, but it left the impression he was a man who wanted out of politics. In every cabinet shuffle after that, rumours abounded Toews would finally step down and Goertzen would step in.

Now Toews is officially gone -- he resigned his seat and cabinet post the day after making his retirement announcement last week -- Tories in Manitoba can start recruiting the next MP. One thing is for certain: The stakes are high here, both for the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives and for Goertzen.

The Tory nomination in this riding is the closest to a sure thing as you'll find in politics. Provencher is solidly Tory and although other parties have held the riding over its long history -- it elected many Liberals and Louis Riel as an Independent MP twice -- it isn't likely a party other than the Conservatives will succeed here any time soon.

That would give Goertzen, or any anyone else who captures the nomination, some security about making the jump to federal politics. Still, in Goertzen's case, there are consequences for the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

Goertzen is easily one of the Tories' most promising MLAs. During elections, he is his party's most visible public speaker, appearing at debates and forums all over the province.

Losing Goertzen to federal politics would not cost Tory Leader Brian Pallister a seat. It would, however, cost him a potential senior cabinet minister. And with the Tories riding high in the polls, it would not be premature for anyone to start looking ahead to a Tory cabinet and what it would look like without Goertzen.

Goertzen has always struggled with the logistics of holding a federal seat. When everyone thought Toews was leaving in 2008, Goertzen readied a plan that, were he to succeed in winning the seat, he'd relocate his wife and young son to Ottawa. Five years later, Goertzen said in an interview he has to re-evaluate the opportunity all over again.

"Five years ago, this would have been a slam dunk. But a lot of things have changed in five years."

This is where the whole Provencher opportunity gets really interesting.

While Tory fortunes are promising provincially, things are a bit more complicated on the federal stage. The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing its first real sag in support, with most polls showing the opposition Liberals and new leader Justin Trudeau enjoying a resurgence. If there is any more slippage, Harper's run in government could be coming to an end.

Would Goertzen trade an opposition critic's role in the Manitoba legislature for, potentially, the same role in Ottawa? This is a decision that may come down to whether the provincial or federal seat offers the best chance of forming government, something Goertzen has never experienced.

The Provencher nomination should be, if there is any justice, a hotly contested affair. It would be a shame if such a safe Tory seat did not produce multiple candidates, hundreds of membership sales and a competitive result.

For now, Goertzen will wait on Harper to call a byelection before making a decision.

And other potential candidates of Provencher will likely wait on Goertzen.

dan.lett@ freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2013 A4

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