Manitoba Tories try to avoid leadership questions, observer says
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The Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba avoids the airing of grievances by members dissatisfied with their leader by delaying its annual general meeting until spring, but it also squanders an opportunity to raise its profile, says one political expert.
PC party president Brent Pooles said in an email Tuesday the party will postpone its annual fall meeting until spring, to avoid “interference” with the Kirkfield Park byelection, which became necessary after PC MLA Scott Fielding quit in June. The byelection must be held by early December.
Prof. Felix Mathieu at the University of Winnipeg said it’s uncertain how holding the annual general meeting in the fall would run afoul of a byelection.
“The (meeting) could have been a forum for the PCs to make sure they are visible in the media and to promote their party, and potential candidate, for the upcoming byelection,” Mathieu said Wednesday.
Pooles was not available on Tuesday or Wednesday to answer questions about delaying the fall meeting. Last year, a fall leadership contest was held instead to replace Brian Pallister. In that race, the PC caucus and party establishment backed cabinet minister Heather Stefanson, who narrowly defeated Shelly Glover, a former MP and police officer who challenged the Tories’ COVID-19 restrictions.
No clear explanation has been provided for delaying the AGM again, said Mathieu.
“The main explanation appears to be that the PC leadership, and Stefanson specifically fear that their actions could be questioned by their base,” he said. “After all, a significant proportion of their membership came to the party to support Shelly Glover, many of whom were frustrated with the way the PCs handled the leadership race and election,” he said.
An annual meeting can also be used to trigger a leadership vote, Mathieu noted.
“Look at what happened to the leader of the conservatives in Alberta not too long ago,” he said. “Whereas Jason Kenney was still performing a lot better than Heather Stefanson in the polls, the PC leadership seems to fear a similar outcome could happen.” Kenney announced his resignation as United Conservative Party leader in May after narrowly winning a leadership review.
The statement issued by Manitoba PC president Pooles, who took over in July, said Stefanson “loves having open dialogue with the membership and will continue to do so.
“She is very excited to meet with everyone at once during our April 14 AGM weekend,” Pooles is quoted as saying.
“She has had an extensive summer schedule and has met with party members from across all of Manitoba.”
With the Tories heading into a “very heavy nomination period,” Stefanson will meet with members on an almost weekly basis, said Pooles.
Meeting with members in such settings is not the same as meeting with the membership at an AGM, said Mathieu.
“It does not enable the members to keep their leadership accountable.”
The delay of the fall AGM goes against the party’s own constitution, which requires that annual meetings be held no longer than 24 months apart. However, there’s no authority that compels it to abide by its own rules, aside from its own party members.
“Elections Manitoba is not involved with how any political party develops or manages their constitution,” said Mike Ambrose, spokesman for the non-partisan government agency that oversees provincial elections.
Meanwhile, the PCs have yet to announce a nominee to run in Kirkfield Park.
On Tuesday, the NDP announced Kirkfield Park resident Logan Oxenham as their candidate. The transgender juvenile corrections officer and counsellor at the Manitoba Youth Centre is married and a father. In 2021, he received a Manitoba 150 medal in recognition of his advocacy for the trans community.
A spokesman for the Liberals said they are in the process of vetting candidates for Kirkfield Park and expect to announce a candidate soon.
Pooles said the PC party will “continue to fight for Manitobans and provide good government, and will continue to remind them about why Wab Kinew and the NDP are a risk not worth taking.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 8:06 PM CDT: typo fixed