Manitoba soon to meet its placeholder premier

After electing three premiers in the past two decades, Manitoba faces the prospect of three new premiers in the next two years.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/08/2021 (396 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After electing three premiers in the past two decades, Manitoba faces the prospect of three new premiers in the next two years.

Premier Brian Pallister’s resignation (announced earlier this month, with the date confirmed Sunday) takes effect at 8 a.m. Sept. 1. However, he remains in the role until Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon signs in his replacement, says veteran political affairs analyst Paul Thomas.

“Our Constitution requires there must never be a time when there is not a premier and government in place,” the University of Manitoba political studies professor emeritus said Monday. “This is true, even during an election.”

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Deputy premier and government house leader Kelvin Goertzen could become the next premier of Manitoba. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The Progressive Conservative party caucus is expected to choose a premier-designate Tuesday, who will be sworn in Wednesday — but as of late Monday, no one could say at what time and where.

“Decisions on the timing, location and logistics of the swearing-in process have yet to be finalized, as these decisions are made in consultation with the premier-designate,” a government spokesman said.

Thomas speculated deputy premier and government house leader Kelvin Goertzen, who is not running to be the PC party’s next leader, will soon become Manitoba’s 23rd premier.

“Due to the confidentiality that surrounds cabinet and caucus we cannot know for sure, but it seems safe to assume that Goertzen was the unanimous, or nearly unanimous choice,” Thomas said.

Goertzen was not made available Monday for comment.

If the Steinbach MLA is named to the job, it is believed he will be the first Mennonite to hold the office of Manitoba premier.

Two other possible candidates for premier-designate are cabinet ministers Cathy Cox and Rochelle Squires. In both cases, they would become the first female premier in Manitoba history.

Whoever is appointed will remain in office until the PC party elects its new leader Oct. 30. That person will then be sworn in as Manitoba’s 24th premier.

With the province scheduled to go to the polls on or before Oct. 3, 2023, Manitoba may quickly meet No. 25, should the Tories not form the next majority.

Ruth Bonneville Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox is a possible candidate to take over from Brian Pallister. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“There is also the possibility that should the PCs gain a boost from the leadership contest, and should improved polls indicate prospects for a victory, the new leader might be tempted to… call an early election,” Thomas said.

Meanwhile, “Selection of an interim leader/premier by the elected members serving the legislature is legitimate and not unusual.”

David Howard Harrison served as premier for less than a month (Dec. 26, 1887 to Jan. 19, 1888) after the fall of John Norquay’s non-partisan government until the Liberals (led by Thomas Greenway) took power.

In 1967, Walter Weir became premier after Duff Roblin resigned to run (unsuccessfully) for the federal Progressive Conservative party leadership. Weir served from Nov. 27, 1967, to July 15, 1969, when NDP leader Ed Schreyer replaced him as premier following election.

Pallister announced Sunday he was resigning, effective Wednesday, “to ensure the election of my successor can continue to take place free of any perception of any influence from the Office of the Premier.”

Thomas said it is probably only part of the reason.

“An indefinite date for departure meant more time for cohesion in cabinet and caucus to dissolve, with more critics of policies and operating style coming forward,” he said. “The work of government may have slowed because he was a ‘lame duck’ premier.

“Leaving now reduces that possibility, limits the damage to the party brand and starts the rebuilding of the image of the party.”

The sooner Pallister is gone, the sooner his government can be replaced, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Francophone Affairs Minister Rochelle Squires is another possible candidate to take over the premier's job. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“The health-care cuts that Mr. Pallister put into place really caused all sorts of problems throughout the (COVID-19) pandemic and they continue,” the Opposition leader said in a scrum outside the legislature Monday.

“The work of repairing that damage is going to take a long time. We’ll be able to start it soon. Certainly, the same party that caused this damage isn’t going to be the right team to fix it.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Manitoba needs a government focused on the pandemic and preparing for the fourth wave, as children head back to school.

“Pallister’s decision to step aside on Wednesday is the right move to make, but it can’t be a distraction,” Lamont said in an email Monday.

“By the end of this year, we will have had three health ministers, and three premiers in a very short time, but there is still a government to run,” the MLA for St. Boniface said.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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