New populist party poses threat to Manitoba Tories

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The arrival of the Keystone Party is the last thing the Progressive Conservative government, which is trailing in the polls under an unpopular leader, needs right now, a former Tory insider says.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/06/2022 (225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The arrival of the Keystone Party is the last thing the Progressive Conservative government, which is trailing in the polls under an unpopular leader, needs right now, a former Tory insider says.

The new party’s libertarian, freedom-touting, populist manifesto threatens to lure support away from the governing PCs, split the vote in the next election and give the NDP an easier path to victory, said political commentator Deveryn Ross, who served as deputy chief of staff to former premier Brian Pallister.

A Probe Research poll earlier this month found that if an election were held today, 45 per cent of respondents would vote NDP, while 35 per cent would support the Tories under Premier Heather Stefanson.

SUPPLIED The Keystone Party has 15 months to establish itself before Manitoba’s next election.

“It’s hard enough to raise money and find people to work on campaigns,” Ross said Tuesday after Elections Manitoba announced that the Keystone Party had met the requirements for party status and could issue tax receipts for donations.

The next election is 15 months away, and now the Keystone Party will be vying for donations, volunteers and votes.

“The real issue is going to be the capacity of this party to split votes at the riding level in the next election,” Ross said.

In a statement Tuesday, the Keystone Party said it not only wants to change government, but “change what government is.”

The party’s leader, Manitou-area farmer Kevin Friesen, declined to do any interviews until the party’s first official news conference July 15 on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature, the statement said.

It thanked the “thousands” of eligible voters (2,500 signatures were required) who signed its petition to become a party and “the many volunteers that assisted in the process, braving a variety of conditions, including -35 C temperatures.”

When asked if the Progressive Conservative party is concerned about losing support to the Keystone Party, a PC spokesperson said it’s the only party that can beat the NDP.

“The PC party is making life more affordable, strengthening health care and creating better jobs,” the unnamed spokesperson said in an email Tuesday. “We are the only party that can stop (NDP Leader) Wab Kinew’s agenda to raise taxes on families and make Manitoba less competitive and more expensive.”

Aggrieved Manitobans, who opposed pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates — and blame the PC government for imposing them — are being offered a new home in the Keystone Party, Ross said.

“The Keystone Party could be a real magnet for them,” he said.

“I know a number of people in the (PC) party and, frankly, in the government, who in general would support the principles of the (Keystone) party,” said Ross, calling it a “Manitoba version of the People’s Party.” He likened the Keystone Party’s libertarian manifesto to that of the Peoples Party of Canada, led by Maxime Bernier, that rallied behind the so-called “freedom convoy” in February.

The People’s Party of Canada didn’t win any seats in the 2021 federal election but found pockets of support in southern Manitoba, particularly in Portage-Lisgar, which is held by incumbent Candice Bergen, the interim Conservative leader, who was elected with 52 per cent of the vote.

The PPC candidate placed second, with 21 per cent of vote, while the NDP ranked third with 19 per cent. In Provencher, the PPC candidate finished third, with 16 per cent of the vote, behind the Liberals (17 per cent) and 48 per cent for incumbent Conservative MP Ted Falk, who has refused to divulge his COVID-19 vaccination status.

The Keystone Party has 15 months to establish itself before Manitoba’s next election.

“This party may not be around for the long run,” said Ross. “It’s a grievance party. It’s probably intended, created, exists solely to cause pain for the Stefanson government — as a little bit of revenge for the the pandemic restrictions,” said Ross.

If its leader, Friesen, has charisma, can maintain discipline and grow the party, it’s a “potentially devastating blow” to the PCs, he said.

“Something really to watch for now is whether this pushes a number of members of the PC caucus to announce they’re not running: people who’ve been around long enough to say ‘I don’t need a tough fight that’s only harder now.’”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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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