There’s one thing Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative MLAs know for sure: if their leader, Premier Brian Pallister, is entertaining any thought of sticking around to contest another election, their party is toast.
If that were to occur, the Tories would be destroyed in Winnipeg and would likely lose a handful of seats in rural Manitoba. They would be relegated to the opposition benches for at least eight years. Many sitting Tory MLAs — and cabinet ministers — would lose their jobs. For some, their political careers would be over.
It’s unlikely Pallister will stay on for a third election. It appears his plan all along was to serve two abbreviated terms in government (the reason he called an early election in 2019) and will bow out sometime during his second mandate.
However, the political landscape has shifted, in large part because of Pallister’s disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of grave political missteps, including the premier’s refusal to acknowledge Canada’s colonial history and how it affects the lives of Indigenous people.
It’s possible that Pallister, whose approval rating has hit rock bottom, may not want to leave under such a dark cloud. He may believe the worst is behind him and that he can turn things around, regain Manitobans' trust and win a third term. His ego is that big.
If he does pursue that path, Tory MLAs know they’re doomed. It would be a bloodbath. The PC party, now with 36 seats, could easily lose a dozen ridings, mostly in Winnipeg where their support has plummeted. According to last month’s Probe Research poll, the party’s support in Winnipeg has withered to 22 per cent.
Winnipeg ridings such as Assiniboia, McPhillips, Southdale, Rossmere and Kildonan-River East would likely turn orange. Fort Richmond, Lagimodiere, Waverley, and Riel (Families Minister Rochelle Squire’s constituency), would be in serious jeopardy. Outside the city, the Tories could kiss goodbye to Brandon East, Selkirk and Dauphin.
Even if Pallister delays his departure to later in 2022, the Tories’ chances of turning things around before an election in fall 2023 would be stymied. They have two years to retool and rebrand their organization, including electing a new leader. Anything less than that would severely undermine their chances of hanging on to government.
It’s possible that Pallister, whose approval rating has hit rock bottom, may not want to leave under such a dark cloud.
Most Tory MLAs know that.
The question is, what are they prepared to do to force a change in leadership? If Pallister doesn’t set a clear timetable for his departure very soon, a leadership change would require a caucus revolt: MLAs would have to start leaving cabinet and/or caucus to signal their dissatisfaction with their leader, as former Indigenous affairs minister Eileen Clarke did last week.
What would they have to lose? Not much. Whatever political price they may pay (if any) for sticking their necks out now would be nothing compared to what awaits them if Pallister overstays his welcome. Many would be voted out of office anyway, or end up in opposition. At least by standing up now and demanding Pallister’s departure, they would have a shot at victory in 2023.
Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative party has lost its way because it has a thoughtless, egocentric leader who is not equipped to lead in the 21st century. He is incapable of honest reflection, has racist tendencies and doesn’t know the meaning of consultation. He is a divider, not a leader.
The question is, what are they prepared to do to force a change in leadership?
The Tories have competent people in caucus. With the right leader – a progressive candidate who can rekindle support in Winnipeg (preferably a woman) – they could be very competitive in 2023. In fact, Pallister’s departure is the Opposition NDP’s worst nightmare, especially if he is replaced by a modern, progressive leader. New Democrats want him to stay.
Tory MLAs have some big decisions to make in the coming weeks. Their boat is sinking fast with Pallister at the helm. If they don’t toss him overboard soon, they won’t be able to bail enough water before the next election to stay afloat. It’s time for them to sink or swim.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.