Shelly Glover was well on her way to an almost perfect Progressive Conservative leadership campaign launch when disaster struck.
The former Winnipeg police officer and federal MP/cabinet minister had designed an event that was the perfect foil for fellow party leadership hopeful MLA Heather Stefanson.
When Stefanson announced her bid last month, she addressed the media with a backdrop of 23 mostly white, mostly male — and almost entirely unmasked — Tory MLAs behind her.
Glover starts bid for Manitoba Tory leader, opposes vaccine mandates for workersClick to Expand
Posted: 5:26 PM Sep. 10, 2021
WINNIPEG - One person running to become Manitoba's next premier said Friday she opposes COVID-19 vaccine mandates for frontline workers.
Shelly Glover also said that if elected leader of the governing Progressive Conservatives, she would review how the government decided to require people to be vaccinated to enter restaurants, theatres, sports arenas and other venues.
On Friday, Glover had a true rainbow coalition, including prominent opinion leaders from the Indigenous and Black communities, all of whom were wearing face coverings.
Stefanson was greeted by polite applause from her caucus mates; Glover had raucous cheering against a backdrop of a catchy Shania Twain song.
Where Stefanson largely parroted talking points on most major issues from now-former leader Brian Pallister, Glover offered new perspectives on Indigenous issues, health care and the path forward for the PC party.
And then... Glover announced she did not support COVID-19 vaccine mandates, including mandates for health-care workers.
It wasn't just that she rejected one of the most effective public health measures being invoked all over the world to stave off a full-blown fourth wave of the pandemic, it was the rationale.
It was her casual and frequent references to doctors advising patients not to get vaccinated, and how there were "other sources of information" on the dangers posed by vaccines and COVID-19 that were not being properly considered.
Glover is double-vaccinated. But perhaps unwittingly, her inexplicable opposition to mandates touched on many of the talking points from the increasingly angry, increasingly violent anti-vax constituency.
It is a confounding position. When COVID-19 hit, Glover, 54, came out of retirement to train as a health-care aide so she could lend a hand in understaffed personal care homes.
Politics aside, Glover's decision was nothing short of heroic. If for no other reason, the decision to leave the comfort of home isolation and run directly into the eye of the storm makes her a legitimate candidate to lead this provincial party.
However, it is that experience which makes her aversion to vaccine mandates so astonishing.
Glover said she gained such tremendous respect for the health-care workers who kept the system afloat, she cannot ask them to get a vaccine if they don't really want to.
As such, Glover will draw the ire of people employed in the health-care system who were willingly vaccinated and its patients — all of whom face considerably more risk if unvaccinated staff are allowed to work.
There is a risk this one issue will eclipse other ideas she wants to raise in her leadership campaign. (It is noteworthy none of the journalists at the launch asked questions about anything other than the vaccine mandate stance.)
There is a risk this one issue will eclipse other ideas she wants to raise in her leadership campaign.
If there is any hope for Glover, it may be in the longer-form answer she provided in a post-launch interview.
Glover said she will remain open-minded about the need for vaccine mandates and if she becomes PC leader/premier and gets a "seat at the table" with senior public health officials, she could be persuaded it is the only way to keep the novel coronavirus in check.
Glover said any final decision would be based on science and medicine, not on religion or political ideology.
"If I get to the table and I am convinced that the science says (it's necessary), I'll be the first one to say that my position has changed," she said in an interview. "For now, I expect us to work on something to stop this division and to convince these people who are fearful (about vaccines) that they don't have to be afraid."
For the sake of the PC party, one can only hope Glover doesn't get bogged down in a policy that puts her at odds with the 85 per cent of Manitobans who have willingly become vaccinated and expect to be protected against the threat posed by those who could get the vaccine but just don't want to.
Glover's candidacy makes this the first truly competitive leadership race in the PC party in more than 30 years.
Stefanson has said and done so little since launching her bid last month, it has become abundantly clear she is not prepared for an actual campaign. Her shock-and-awe approach involved hoarding support from caucus and using those MLAs to force the party to create campaign rules that would allow her take an early lead and bully other contenders out of the race.
It was a bold strategy that looks now like a massive miscalculation.
Neither Glover nor Stefanson has a clear path to the leadership. Both will have to present positions on the major issues of the day. Both will be pressed to either embrace or reject the worst parts of the Pallister legacy.
That's exactly what this party needs.
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.