Troubled PC race threatens to undermine new leader Organizers refuse to delay vote set for Saturday

If the result of Saturday's Progressive Conservative leadership contest is close, Manitoba will be in “uncharted waters,” and the party can expect a storm of criticism for not delaying the vote to ensure all eligible members could cast a ballot.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/10/2021 (580 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If the result of Saturday’s Progressive Conservative leadership contest is close, Manitoba will be in “uncharted waters,” and the party can expect a storm of criticism for not delaying the vote to ensure all eligible members could cast a ballot.

The PC party refused to extend Friday’s deadline for the return of ballots despite myriad complaints about ballots not getting to eligible voters in time — some members hadn’t received a ballot — and one of the candidates requesting a postponement.

“The ballot count and announcement of the results will take place tomorrow,” the PC party said in an email Friday. “This will be a historic day as Manitoba’s first woman premier will be selected to lead our province.”

A chipper email sent to members Friday invited them to view the livestreamed event to see who wins the leadership and becomes premier-designate.

Former MP Shelly Glover is considered the underdog against Stefanson. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Underdog Shelly Glover, a former cop and federal cabinet minister — who demanded the race be postponed to ensure it’s fair — is pitted against longtime Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson, who is backed by most of the party caucus and big money. They have expressed confidence in the party’s voting process.

“If it’s a huge victory, then a few hundred ballots here and there isn’t really a major concern,” Prof. Christopher Adams said. “It will be moot” if the winner receives 70 per cent of the vote, for instance, he said.

When asked why it won’t postpone the vote count, the PC party issued a statement.

“We mailed over 25,000 ballots with time for those ballots to be returned by the deadline. We have taken additional steps to ensure each eligible PC party member has the opportunity to vote, including offering regional locations where members can pick-up and drop off ballots prior to the cut-off date,” it said providing a list of rural locations and noting it was the first election the party has conducted solely by mail-in ballot.

Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson is backed by most of the party caucus. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“It’s par for the course to have complications in a leadership race. The question is, how serious it is, and whether it’s a big enough problem to delegitimize the outcome,” Adams said.

“If it’s 52 to 48 (per cent) or 55 to 45 (per cent), then there will be serious questions about the party having gone ahead with (the vote).”

If that’s what happens, Adams isn’t sure what would happen next.

“I guess we’re into uncharted waters,” he said.

Since the leader will become premier-designate, the stakes are much higher.

Timeline to finish line

The race was called after Brian Pallister announced in August he was stepping down in time for the party to elect a new leader ahead of an election due on or before Oct. 3, 2023.

The deadline for candidates to enter the race was Sept. 15, with each required to sell 1,000 memberships and raise $25,000.

Only party members who bought or renewed their $20 membership by the end of the day Oct. 1 would receive a ballot in the mail — once they had been verified. They had until 5 p.m. Friday to mark their X for either Shelly Glover or Heather Stefanson and return the ballot to PC headquarters.

Saturday’s leadership election is at the Victoria Inn and open to invited guests and accredited media. All in attendance must provide proof they’ve been fully vaccinated.

It will be livestreamed starting at 3:30 p.m.

Interim Premier Kelvin Goertzen will deliver an address. Former premier Pallister will not be involved in the program, a source told the Free Press.

Whoever wins will be sworn in as premier by Lt-Gov. Janice Filmon at a later date.

Veteran political analyst Paul Thomas also was unsure about the next steps the party would take if there is no obvious winner and the outcome is contested.

“I guess you appeal to the committee that oversaw the event and hope that they’re honest enough to admit that this was a far from perfect staging of the event, that things went wrong,” said the University of Manitoba political studies professor emeritus.

Rushing to hold the race may backfire for the party, said Thomas.

“It may be that if the establishment behind Stefanson thought this was a sort of walk-on victory for her, maybe they didn’t have to sweat the details, as the expression goes, that it would all be taken care of because this would be almost a coronation,” he said.

“I think they felt an urgency because this was the governing party.”

The race buoyed the party membership and bank account, said Thomas. The PC party grew to 25,000 members compared to a rumoured 5,000 members at the low point of former premier Brian Pallister’s popularity in the spring.

Now the party’s handling of the leadership race is threatening to undermine that support, Thomas said.

“There will be some people who say ‘they can’t run their own internal affairs smoothly and deal with contingencies that they hadn’t anticipated… how will they be able to run a $17-billion government operation?'” Thomas said.

“If Heather Stefanson was the heir apparent and had all this backing of cabinet and caucus, why didn’t they take the time to run a sound contest so there wouldn’t be any tarnish on her victory?”

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the “messy” race has only been about power, not new ideas, policy “or anything of substance.”

“If you’re like me, you want the premier to be chosen in a fair, impartial process.”

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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