Predicting Poilievre to lead Tories
Half of province’s MPs vow support to party leadership candidate who holds ‘government’s feet to the fire’
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This article was published 20/07/2022 (312 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Half of Manitoba’s Tory MPs are solidly behind populist Pierre Poilievre, while Manitoba’s premier says the federal party’s leadership race is not even on her mind.
The Free Press asked Manitoba’s seven Conservative MPs and 35 PC MLAs whom they plan to support Sept. 10.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Premier Heather Stefanson said. “We’ve got so many issues at the provincial level, so I have not — and will not — get involved at the federal party level.”
That’s no surprise to University of Winnipeg political scientist Félix Mathieu, who studies party politics in Canada. He said provincial leaders only endorse federal candidates if they have clout.
“It’s all about power relations. Are you confident that your endorsement of someone will have a significant impact on the outcome?” he said.
Mathieu said a premier riding high in the polls can share their star power, and expect good relations with their preferred candidate if they take office. But a premier whose popularity is polling low, such as Stefanson, might alienate herself if another candidate wins.
“She knows that she needs to be really cautious about the political moves she can make right now,” Mathieu said.
That includes not tapping into southern Manitoba residents upset about COVID-19 vaccination mandates, who fuelled support for Stefanson’s rival Shelly Glover in last fall’s PC leadership race.
While many of those Manitobans might have similar views as Poilievre, Mathieu said Stefanson wouldn’t get much benefit by endorsing him, as opposition parties would suggest the PC government supports anti-vaccination or trucker protest groups.
“She knows she needs to find a certain balance, and right now the balance seems to be not saying anything explicit,” Mathieu said.
He said endorsements by individual MLAs and even provincial ministers are far less risky, as they are not speaking on behalf of the whole PC party. MPs are often expected to pick a candidate.
Dauphin-area MP Dan Mazier said he’s supporting Poilievre because he was raised in Alberta, and understands Western Canada’s need for smaller government and a strong energy industry.
“He is a person of focus and integrity, on what he says he’s going to do or why he’s focused on that,” Mazier said. “We’re at a very low point in Canada; this (Liberal) government has managed to fracture us, divide us and demonize some of our industries.”
Poilievre has attracted media scrutiny for dodging basic questions about his platform, and for promising to fire the Bank of Canada governor. To Mazier, that distracts from someone voicing a vision for Canada.
“The media doesn’t really like him — he’s got a different image that’s been portrayed of him,” Mazier said.
MP James Bezan said he was the first in Manitoba to endorse Poilievre.
“He’s an individual that’s very charming; he’s articulate and highly intelligent,” he said. “He has a record of membership sales any contender of any party has ever sold.”
The Interlake-area MP said he met people at Poilievre’s rally in Winnipeg in April who said they used to vote Liberal and NDP, but were upset by those parties’ deal to work together and stave off an election — and at vaccination mandates.
Bezan said Manitobans should take notice of Poilievre’s promise to try shipping oil through the Port of Churchill, which he said would give northern Manitoba more economic opportunities and likely return some military presence to the area.
MP Marty Morantz said working on the House finance committee with Poilievre revealed a politician who could push for answers during the We Charity scandal.
“I’ve never been able to see someone keep the government’s feet to the fire, in terms of holding them to account, better than Pierre,” said Morantz, who represents Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley.
The MP was enthusiastic about a platform that seeks to lower taxes and regulations, in part by repealing environmental review laws provincial governments have deemed too onerous.
Larry Maguire, the sole MP to endorse Jean Charest, isn’t worried that just over half his caucus colleagues are supporting Poilievre.
And while the Charest campaign has signed on fewer memberships, his team argues he’ll come out on top thanks to the party’s points system, which weighs leadership votes by riding, in order to favour a candidate with support across the country.
“When we’re talking about uniting the country, I think it’s a much better way to pick a leader,” said the Brandon—Souris MP.
Maguire argued Charest has a realistic plan to balance environmental goals with keeping a strong oil and agriculture sector. As Quebec premier, Charest cut the public service and balanced the province’s budget, which Maguire would like to see replicated nationally.
Before that, Charest helped lead the federalist side of Quebec’s 1995 referendum on independence.
“He still has the vision of bringing the country together and uniting it, and I think that’s a big part of what we need to do right now, and make sure all parts of the country are equal,” said Maguire.
“It augurs very well that he opened his campaign in Calgary, in Western Canada, and that I think is just an example of how he deems every region of this country to be important.”
Charest has had pushback from Tory members for describing the so-called freedom convoy on Parliament Hill as “an illegal blockade.” Maguire wouldn’t say if he agreed, arguing the protests stemmed from the Trudeau government’s divisive rhetoric and a vaccination mandate for the trucking industry Maguire feels was unnecessary.
Provencher MP Ted Falk has endorsed social-conservative candidate Leslyn Lewis, who opposes abortion. He touted her background in international law.
Kildonan—St. Paul MP Raquel Dancho said she respects all candidates and spoke with each, but is sitting out the race. “I’ve really been looking to spend some more time with my constituents and with my family this summer.”
To Dancho, inflation, travel woes and Internet regulation will give ample opportunities for whoever wins the leadership to present an alternative to the current government.
Portage—Lisgar MP Candice Bergen will not endorse any candidate, as expected for the interim leader of the national party.
Meanwhile, PC MLAs Josh Guenter and Ron Schuler, who both opposed their provincial government’s COVID-19 vaccination mandates, have endorsed Poilievre.
Mathieu said that’s likely to shore up local support ahead of Manitoba’s 2023 election.
“It’s really specific to their own electoral district. They have spoken with their constituents and probably they have heard more than often positive vibes towards Poilievre and not so positive vibes to Jean Charest.”
Updated on Wednesday, July 20, 2022 6:53 AM CDT: Corrects headline to refer to Tories; corrects spelling of Shelly Glover and Joyce Bateman