Tory cabinet minister’s exit may be sign of things to come

It’s not a stampede yet. But it will have to do until the stampede gets here.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.

Opinion

It’s not a stampede yet. But it will have to do until the stampede gets here.

On Monday morning, when most journalists were still mainlining their first cup of coffee, a news release confirmed Manitoba Natural Resources and Northern Development Minister Scott Fielding, Tory MLA for Kirkfield Park, was leaving politics immediately to pursue opportunities in the private sector.

Almost before the ink was dry on that news release, the questions started.

In resigning his post, is Fielding an outlier, the exception to the rule for a Progressive Conservative caucus that will circle the wagons to fight for Premier Heather Stefanson? Or is this just the first in a series of high-profile Tories choosing flight over fighting for their political lives in the 2023 provincial election?

You can bet Fielding won’t be the last sudden departure.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

As we inch past the six-month post in Stefanson’s tenure as premier, the political landscape facing the Tories is just as dire as it was when then-premier Brian Pallister announced last summer he was retiring from politics.

The situation is particularly grim in Winnipeg, where elections are won or lost in Manitoba and the Tories are running well behind the Opposition NDP in polls. It’s a scenario that represents peril for any Tory MLA in Winnipeg — including Fielding.

Although Kirkfield Park appears, at first glance, to be solid Tory territory, it was held by the NDP from 2007 to 2016. These days, Kirkfield Park is seen as a bellwether riding that will sway with the prevailing provincial political winds.

A steep uphill battle in the fall 2023 election is not the only thing pushing Fielding out of politics.

A steep uphill battle in the fall 2023 election is not the only thing pushing (Scott) Fielding out of politics.

In Pallister’s cabinet, Fielding held some of the most senior and demanding roles in government, including families and finance. He galvanized a reputation as a capable minister who held his own in question period and rarely, if ever, got stumped by reporters’ questions.

He may not have been considered a “star,” but Fielding did his job without generating any self-inflicted wounds. Competent without controversy is always in fashion for any political party.

Fielding’s performance was so solid, he toyed with the idea of launching his own party leadership bid when the role came open year. Very quickly, however, Fielding became one of the many hopefuls in the Tory caucus steamrolled by the Stefanson juggernaut.

The current premier organized early and furiously, making it clear she would not look kindly on any minister or MLA who threw their hat in the party ring. In the end, not a single member of the elected caucus would step up to challenge her, leaving it to former federal Tory MP Shelly Glover to make it a two-person race.

The current premier organized early and furiously, making it clear she would not look kindly on any minister or MLA who threw their hat in the party ring.

Even though Fielding backed away from a leadership bid, it didn’t appear to earn him any points with Stefanson. In her first cabinet shuffle in January, she moved Fielding from the coveted finance portfolio to natural resources.

There is no such thing as an unimportant job in cabinet, but this was clearly a rung down the power structure, and a message Fielding did not have a future in a Stefanson government.

If the Stefanson PCs were solidly out in front of the opposition parties in terms of popular support, and thus facing a realistic chance of re-election, Fielding’s departure wouldn’t mean a whole lot.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES As we inch past the six-month post in Stefanson’s tenure as premier, the political landscape facing the Tories is just as dire as it was when then-premier Brian Pallister announced last summer he was retiring from politics.

However, when you’re an unpopular leader of an unpopular government hurtling towards a challenging election, losing a member of your team who has experience and personal brand recognition hits particularly hard. And there is little doubt more Tories are headed to the door.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires (Riel), another potential leadership hopeful who didn’t join the race, is the subject of rumours she may run for mayor of Winnipeg this fall. A mayoral bid would make sense given, if the polls hold through to next fall, she has zero chance of re-election in the Winnipeg riding she has held since 2016.

You could also look to the dissidents and the potential dissidents: Springfield-Ritchot MLA Ron Schuler was kicked out of cabinet for not adhering to Stefanson’s vaccine mandate; McPhillips MLA Shannon Martin, who won by only a handful of votes in 2019, launched daily social media salvos at Stefanson during the leadership race; Lakeside MLA Ralph Eichler and Kildonan-River East MLA Cathy Cox were inexplicably shuffled out of cabinet in January, despite supporting Stefanson.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires (Riel), another potential leadership hopeful who didn’t join the race, is the subject of rumours she may run for mayor of Winnipeg this fall.

Finally, there are a host of MLAs holding ridings that are, under current party standings, unwinnable for the Tories. Health Minister Audrey Gordon (Southdale) and Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard (Fort Richmond) top a list of the most vulnerable.

No, it’s not a stampede yet. And it’s always possible the Tories recruit a new crop of candidates that provide more curb appeal than those who jumped ship.

However, Stefanson must create a compelling reason for the electorate to support the PC party in the next election. If she cannot do that, she will also have failed to give members of her own caucus the impetus to stick around.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Finance Minister Scott Fielding’s performance was so solid, he toyed with the idea of launching his own party leadership bid when the role came open year.
Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

Report Error Submit a Tip