‘Anything goes’ era of Manitoba politics looms

The Progressive Conservative leadership race has the potential to alter the construct of the provincial party and change the course of government in Manitoba — and it has been underwhelming.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/10/2021 (341 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Progressive Conservative leadership race has the potential to alter the construct of the provincial party and change the course of government in Manitoba — and it has been underwhelming.

The battle between Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson, 51, and former Conservative MP Shelly Glover, 54, has featured almost no public appearances, policy statements or debate. Instead, the spade work of this campaign has involved lobbying people to buy party memberships, and then lobbying them a second time to mail in/drop off their ballots on time for a winner-take-all showdown Oct. 30.

This largely unseen campaign is a big reason why the Free Press posed eight policy questions to the two leadership hopefuls, one of which will be appointed premier of Manitoba at a later date. The answers to the questions were heavy on platitudes, light on policy.

The battle between Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson (above) and former Conservative MP Shelly Glover has featured almost no public appearances, policy statements or debate. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Both leaned heavily on pledges to listen, consult and deliberate. All good qualities, but not a good substitute for concrete plans.

There were a few newsworthy disclosures: Stefanson said she would likely delay a second 25 per cent cut to property taxes to pump more money into health care; Glover said she would consider reopening the two Winnipeg ERs closed as part of a botched hospital reorganization.

Beyond that, what did we learn?

First, neither candidate knows what to do to address systemic racism.

To their credit, both acknowledged systemic racism is a real thing. That may seem unworthy of note, but we should remember former Tory premier Brian Pallister never embraced the word “systemic.” He and other members of his government have made deeply offensive and ignorant remarks about Indigenous people.

Stefanson said she has “no time for racism whatsoever in any form” but would not kick out caucus members who made racist statements and did not propose a single idea to reform government or address systemic racism in the justice system.

Glover, on the other hand, could not get past the idea of promoting awareness.

By now, we should expect political leaders to be aware of systemic racism and be ready to introduce systemic change. In a particularly cringe-worthy moment, Glover proposed an annual Folklorama-like celebration at the Manitoba Legislative Building to celebrate “all of our races and cultures,” a preposterous suggestion in the wake of Black Lives Matter movement.

In the end, neither could get beyond insipid responses to an issue calling out for real action.

A similar failure to propose concrete ideas could be seen on climate change. Neither candidate would firmly commit to a made-in-Manitoba carbon pricing mechanism, which is a controversial subject for the PC party’s base of support. However, in lieu of a carbon tax of some sort, neither could produce a single other idea for reducing Manitoba’s carbon footprint.

Climate change has evolved into a full-blown crisis. Failure to come up with a single impactful idea to address it more than disappointing, it’s morally indefensible.

The only real point of contrast between the two campaigns is on the topic of the COVID-19 pandemic response and, in particular, vaccine mandates.

Shelly Glover (above) would consider reopening the two Winnipeg ERs closed as part of a hospital reorganization, while Heather Stefanson says she would likely delay a second 25 per cent cut to property taxes to pump more money into health care. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Stefanson largely supports the status quo, although, in the wake of disastrous decisions by Pallister to address the second and third waves of COVID-19, she promised to bring in more voices from outside government to guide the pandemic response going forward.

On the other hand, Glover continues to flirt dangerously with the anti-vax and anti-restriction constituency that, party insiders believe, will make or break her leadership bid. Glover claims she is not anti-vaccine or anti-mandate and has only been accused of those sentiments because people have “truncated” her statements.

However, she continues to say things that no doubt excite the far-right members of the party.

Even after serving as an aide in a personal care home during the pandemic, Glover continues to oppose mandating health-care workers to be vaccinated or accept regular rapid testing. She claimed repeatedly there are other options, but the only one she highlighted that isn’t already being offered is an antibody test for those who have had COVID-19 previously. Antibody tests cannot tell us if someone is infectious.

Glover is clearly banking on the fact there are, according to party sources, several thousand new members looking to support a candidate that would eliminate mandates and roll back social and economic restrictions. If Glover is that candidate, and she can muster all that support, this leadership vote could very well turn out to be a battle over the very soul of the PC party.

All that said, the 2021 PC leadership race has been a colossal disappointment. It will put the reins of government into the hands of a new premier not tied down by pledges or positions.

Welcome to the “anything goes” era of Manitoba politics.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

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.

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