PC MLAs pondering political future as polls point down

One observer predicts more veterans could call it quits

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With Progressive Conservative MLAs Eileen Clarke retiring, Scott Fielding resigning, Blaine Pedersen announcing last year that he won’t run again and successive polls indicating they’d lose an election, political watchers are waiting to see who may leave next.

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With Progressive Conservative MLAs Eileen Clarke retiring, Scott Fielding resigning, Blaine Pedersen announcing last year that he won’t run again and successive polls indicating they’d lose an election, political watchers are waiting to see who may leave next.

“I can’t help but think about the final year and half of Greg Selinger’s reign as premier,” said political studies Prof. Christopher Adams.

“I think we’re seeing, or will be seeing, departures of those who are veterans, who just feel now is the time to leave politics — especially if it’s likely that you’re going to be sitting on the Opposition benches,” the former pollster said Friday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Obby Khan narrowly won a March byelection in Fort Whyte has said he will run in the next election.

In June, polling showed that Premier Heather Stefanson’s PC government had fallen even further behind, with 45 per cent of respondents voting NDP, 35 per cent supporting the Tories and 13 per cent voting Liberal.

The Free Press asked PC caucus members last week if they plan to seek re-election in the next general election due on or before Oct. 3, 2023. Only a third responded.

A few were gung-ho to run again. Novice MLA Obby Khan who narrowly won a March byelection in Fort Whyte, former premier Brian Pallister’s seat, and Families Minister Rochelle Squires in Riel both said “absolutely” when asked if they’ll seek re-election.

Others were hesitant — including beleaguered Health Minister Audrey Gordon.

“I’m considering many options at the moment and I haven’t made a firm decision as of yet,” Gordon said Thursday at an event in her Southdale constituency.

Others like longtime Tory MLAs Ralph Eichler and House Speaker Myrna Driedger did not respond to emails asking if they intend to run again.

“I think there are veteran politicians who will just say that it’s time to wind things down: ‘I’ve done it and it’s time to move on’,” said Adams.

“And then there are the other types of politicians who might be looking seriously as to, ‘Is this my future?’ And, ‘Is this what I want to do?’,” he said. “They’re looking at their constituency and saying, ‘Is this a constituency that I might lose, and is it worth putting my family through a whole campaign and all the slings and arrows and then maybe get re-elected, but maybe not?’”

MLAs who aren’t at retirement age may consider jumping out of politics — especially those in south Winnipeg constituencies that swing PC and NDP from election to election, said Adams

“I’m thinking of Audrey Gordon, Sarah Guillemard, Jon Reyes, Janice Morley-Lecomte — I think there will be those who do have many years in the future, but who might be thinking, ‘OK I have to make a judgment as to whether I want to run and go through all the difficulty of running.” The former pollster said he suspects some may be commissioning their own polls “to see where they are in the mix.”

If they decide to opt out, timing is an important consideration.

“You either do it before an election, or else you get re-elected and then you sit on the opposition benches if your party’s defeated,” Adams said. Then it’s a little bit more painful because then you’re abandoning the ship and leaving your colleagues in the lurch after an election.”

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Families Minister Rochelle Squires plans to seek re-election.

MLA Shannon Martin is planning to abandon his Winnipeg seat in McPhillips but to run in the rural constituency of Midland since Pedersen is retiring from politics.

“He comes from rural Manitoba,” said Adams. “I think he just feels more comfortable knocking on doors in rural areas. But I think, also, it’s safer to run in rural Manitoba than it is to run in urban Winnipeg,” he said.

Martin was first elected in a 2014 byelection in Morris and re-elected in 2016 with 75 per cent of the vote. Electoral boundary redistribution did away with the Morris constituency and most of its territory ended up in Midland. In the 2019 election, Pedersen, a close friend of then-premier Pallister, got the nod in Midland. Martin was pushed to contest a new seat in Winnipeg, said Adams. He still managed to eke out a win by 105 votes.

Martin declined to comment about seeking the Midland nomination, deferring to social media where he’s been campaigning since June. Others are vying for the nomination in the Tory stronghold.

“If he’s a powerful enough politician to win votes in a constituency, then he should get nominated,” said Adams.

Martin, who was the provincial director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business before getting elected, was the only member of the Tory caucus to challenge Stefanson for the PC party leadership after Pallister resigned.

Adams said he can’t see the “gung-ho” Martin stepping away from politics — “even if it means it’s going to be a tough fight in the next election.”

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‘I’m considering many options at the moment and I haven’t made a firm decision as of yet,’ Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Thursday at an event in her Southdale constituency.

Meanwhile, the other Tories who responded when asked if they’ll seek re-election are all in what are considered to be safe PC seats.

Andrew Micklefield said he plans to run for re-election in Rossmere. Likewise for James Teitsma in Radisson. Interlake-Gimli MLA Derek Johnson said he also plans to run again. Bob Lagassé said he is planning to run again in Dawson Trail.

Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk was sort of sure about his intention to run again in Turtle Mountain

“I definitely, probably will,” he said at a press conference in Ste. Agathe Wednesday.

Others weren’t sure.

“At this time I have not made a decision yet,” Rick Wowchuk, the MLA for Swan River said.

Education Minister Wayne Ewasko wasn’t prepared to commit, either.

“Time will tell,” the MLA for Lac du Bonnet responded. “It’s always a family decision.”

Whether or not sitting MLAs decide to run again, the PC Party of Manitoba said in a statement that it is “looking forward to nominating a full slate of candidates to represent Manitobans in the legislature.”

— with file from Martin Cash

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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