Premier needs to keep bottom of shoes clean to have any chance in 2023
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/09/2022 (211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Premier Heather Stefanson hasn’t stepped in it for nearly three months. That may not seem like a long time for a politician to go without making a major public gaffe. But for Stefanson, who was dogged by a string of high-profile blunders during her first few months in office, it’s a mini streak she will have to sustain if she wants to be competitive in the next provincial election.
Even before Stefanson was sworn in as premier on Nov. 2, she was lambasted for downplaying her government’s failure to respond decisively to warnings from experts about the severity of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked about it during the Progressive Conservative party leadership race, Stefanson — who was health minster during the third wave — dismissed it as a case of “coulda, shoulda, woulda.”
In January, she was criticized for not following the province’s conflict of interest rules by failing to disclose the sale of properties, worth millions of dollars, between 2016 and 2019. After initially admitting the error, Stefanson then claimed — in a botched attempt at damage control — that she did disclose the sales, to conflict of interest commissioner Jeffrey Schnoor, just not publicly. Conflict of interest rules require MLAs to report their financial holdings, including the sale of assets, to the clerk of the legislative assembly, where the information is available to the public.
Stefanson was forced to apologize less than two months later after bragging about her son’s high school hockey championship during question period, when asked about the death of Krystal Mousseau. The critically ill COVID-19 patient — a mother of two from Ebb and Flow First Nation — died May 25, 2021 after a failed attempt to airlift her to a hospital in Ontario.
Earlier this year, Stefanson was forced to apologize again after it was revealed she violated the Elections Financing Act by spending $1,800 during the 2021 PC party leadership race before the campaign officially began.
The premier’s staff were in damage-control once more the following month after Stefanson chose not to walk in the June 5 Pride Winnipeg parade, after delivering remarks at an opening rally. Event organizers accused Stefanson of lying to them, saying the premier had previously committed, and they banned her from future Pride events. Stefanson later apologized, blaming a scheduling conflict and miscommunication between her staff and Pride organizers for the foul-up.
It’s a long list of muck-ups and miscues.
Stefanson has the second-worst approval rating among Canadian premiers. With the Tories at rock-bottom in public opinion polls, their chances of winning the next election, scheduled for October 2023, are slim to none. If there is any hope for them, Stefanson has to stop making public blunders.
For the most part, the premier has remained error-free since the Pride gaffe. She has also struck a more conciliatory tone with the public and avoided the kind of combative language used in her first few months in office. There has been a concerted effort by Tory strategists to present a kinder, gentler Stefanson to Manitobans. That’s a lot easier to do than it was for her predecessor, former premier Brian Pallister, whose gruff personality and propensity to lash out was nearly impossible to tame. Stefanson is far more affable. The goal for her advisers is to do a better job of showcasing that side of her, one that many Manitobans may not be familiar with.
The Tories have far more dragons to slay than that if they expect to win the next election. It may already be too late for them to regain the trust of Manitobans. But if they do, it would be through significant improvements in health care and by pivoting closer to the middle of the political spectrum.
Reducing surgical and diagnostic wait times and making at least some progress on the emergency-room crisis are at the top of that list. However, the Tories also have to show a more progressive side, especially in areas such as climate change, reconciliation, poverty and addictions (safe injection sites?), in order to win the suburban Winnipeg seats they would need to hang on to government.
That begins with the leader, who will have to be extra careful about where she steps over the next 14 months.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.