A few things in Brian Pallister’s past continue to dog him as he gears up for the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party’s Oct. 27 leadership convention.
Things he wants put to rest. Once and for all.
Pallister called me the day Freep colleague Dan Lett had a column about the anemic interest in the race to replace outgoing leader Hugh McFadyen.
First; the former MP and MLA wants to put to rest that the Tory brass, such as Senator Don Plett and party strategist Marni Larkin, are involved in his campaign.
"I understand the benefits of competition and I want to be clear that there is no great power structure supporting the idea of me entering this race," he said. " I think most Conservatives really understand the benefits of competition, frankly, better than the present NDP government understands them."
Second, Pallister wants to make it clear that it was a family decision for him not to run to replace former PC Leader Stuart Murray when Murray lost the party’s confidence in a 2005. At the time Pallister had recently been elected to Parliament to serve with Prime Minister Stephen Harper under a newly unified Conservative government.
There was a lot of talk then that Pallister would resign his seat to come back to Manitoba to pick up the pieces of the provincial Tory party.
He did not.
He said the decision was a family one, not a political one.
"After agonizing discussions as a family and with party members and with friends we decided not to enter the race," he told me. "We made a very, very difficult decision largely on the basis of what was best for our children not to enter the race."
Pallister also said this about running for leadership of any party:
"Let’s understand something here. This is a serious, serious decision. It is a decision very few people ever have the opportunity to make. It is hard for most people to relate to because of that. It’s not just changing jobs; it’s a life-altering decision for a family and it has incredibly important consequences with the relationships with the people you care most about."
Third, he said when the chance came up back then to run for leadership of the provincial Tory party, to replace Murray, it came after his long and often painful fight to reunite the right. It’s outlined here on Wikipedia.
Pallister said he considered the opportunity to be leader of the provincial PCs so much so that he went to Harper to ask him to not consider him for a possible cabinet post, because there was a chance he would resign.
"I had given several years of my life to trying to reunite the Conservative party and the old Alliance and Reform parties with much criticism from both sides. Being a peacemaker wasn’t an easy job. Then to go to Stephen Harper to say, ‘Leave me out,' to do that and for that to be described as ‘teasing’ is to not be thinking clearly."
In other words, he said he thought long and hard about it, but in the end took a pass on running for the provincial job more for what was good for his wife and two children than anything else.
Now it’s different. His kids are older and he can devote the time needed to compete for the top post.
Currently, he and his wife Esther are meeting supporters through the province to gauge support.
"I do not have 1,000 members signed up. I am starting from scratch. I have not been in provincial politics in 1997. That’s 15 years ago. I know to enter this race and to contest seriously for the leadership of the PC Party is a big undertaking and I also understand the enormity of the task thereafter should one win."
He also said his announcement of being a contender for the top spot is far from being a given. The only other serious contender, at this time, is Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen, who is also in the process of weighing his options.
"We’re really debating as a family whether to enter into a process of team-building," Pallister said. "I’m trying to determine if there is enough support to build a base or a team with. You can’t do this on your own. That would be foolhardy."
Or, he won’t repeat what happened to former MLA colleague Darren Praznik in 2000 when Praznik tried to run against Murray, but bowed out.
"We’re talking about 10-month race. You need volunteer-fuel. You need people who are really, really supportive. But to say we’ve got a powerful team put together, no, I’m not going to say that.
"I do not want to imply that it’s a done deal. I don’t think that that has been determined.
"Given the party’s decision people can enter the race until July, I have no intentions of waiting until anywhere near July to make a decision. At some point obviously a decision has to be made, but at the same time once it’s made for our family there is no question that we’ll stay in the race through to completion. No question whatsoever."