Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2019 (346 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister insists he has no ambitions to lead the federal Tories, but a new poll suggests he’d have a decent shot at leadership.

In an Abacus Data poll of nine possible leadership candidates, Pallister was among seven who were ranked more popular than current Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

The firm polled 3,000 Canadians online over the past week, 60 per cent of whom preferred former defence minister Peter MacKay to Scheer. It placed Pallister among three other Tories tied for fifth place, but below former prime minister Stephen Harper and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.

 

In Ontario, where the Tories lost support in numerous key battlegrounds in the recent election, Pallister was tied with Wall, behind MacKay, Harper and Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.

Yet, among actual Conservative voters, just 21 per cent preferred Pallister over Scheer, who retained more than two-thirds support over the other theoretical candidates, with the exception of Harper.

Scheer may face a leadership review at his party’s April convention — an idea some in the party have welcomed after the setbacks in Ontario and Quebec. While Scheer has boasted of gaining seats elsewhere, his party was frozen out of the Toronto suburbs, despite intensely dedicating campaign resources to that area.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer may face a leadership review at his party’s April convention. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press files)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer may face a leadership review at his party’s April convention. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press files)

Pallister was an MP from 2000 to 2008, and he gained national attention last month, when he played down calls for Alberta and Saskatchewan to try seceding from Canada.

"You overcome your difficulties together," Pallister said. "(If) we're gonna make the country work, we work together on it. We make a commitment to it; it's a relationship."

Loleen Berdahl, the University of Saskatchewan's head of political studies, hailed Pallister for voicing the need for a uniting, national vision for the country, but said she’s "not sure that he would tick all the boxes" to lead the federal Conservatives to an election win.

The Manitoba premier’s profile on national unity and minority groups could lend him support, as could coming from the West and his moderate stance on issues such as balancing climate change with resource projects, Berdahl said.

"When (Pallister) speaks nationally, he can come across quite well. But then he easily slips back into provincial interests, and that’s a very common challenge for any time premiers start to be considered at a national level." – Loleen Berdahl

But his limited French and vocal opposition to Quebec’s hijab-banning secularism law could thwart his chances on the national stage, as could his low popularity among Winnipeggers, if party members feel he’d similarly turn off urban voters, Berdahl said.

Pallister is 65, compared with 40-year-old Scheer, who is functionally bilingual.

The Tory party needs policies and energy that will attract millennials, who now make up the largest voting bloc, Berdahl said, adding a female candidate who is socially progressive and articulate about regional issues would likely woo more support than Pallister.

However, Berdahl isn’t sure the Tories will opt for a leader who will help them form government by moving to the political centre.

"That’s the tension the party has," said Berdahl, who stressed she was opining on a theoretical leadership race.

Earlier this month, Premier Brian Pallister played down the idea of re-entering federal politics. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Earlier this month, Premier Brian Pallister played down the idea of re-entering federal politics. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

She said the Tories tend to splinter on the right — like the Reform and People’s parties — which could be a factor if the fledgling "Wexit" movement takes hold. "They need to grow their party and not scare off the existing base."

In any case, Berdahl said although American governors often run to lead federal parties, it's not common to see Canadian premiers do the same.

"When (Pallister) speaks nationally, he can come across quite well. But then he easily slips back into provincial interests, and that’s a very common challenge for any time premiers start to be considered at a national level."

Scheer took over the Conservatives in a 2017 leadership election which used a secret, ranked ballot, and results were weighted by ridings. That means a candidate who appeals broadly to grassroots Tories in multiple parts of the country is more likely to win than someone who draws support from a narrow base.

Earlier this month, Pallister played down the idea of re-entering federal politics.

"Nobody's putting my name forward," he said shortly after a Nov. 8 meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The visit included numerous television interviews and a Globe and Mail opinion piece.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca