Maybe more than a byelection is needed
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/02/2022 (220 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SOMETIME in the next few days — maybe even today — Premier Heather Stefanson will call a byelection in the Fort Whyte constituency to fill the seat vacated by former premier Brian Pallister.
She may also call a byelection in the Thompson riding, which became vacant after the tragic death of NDP MLA Danielle Adams.
By law, the Fort Whyte byelection must be held by no later than March 29, and must be called by no later than March 1. In other words, time is running out for the campaign to begin.
Holding the two byelections on the same date would be the efficient way to proceed, and would reduce the workload for Elections Manitoba. I have a suggestion for the premier, however, that I’m sure many Manitobans would support:
Don’t just call a couple of byelections. Call a general election.
Some might say that’s impossible. They might argue the Elections Act says “a general election must be held on the first Tuesday in October in the fourth calendar year after election day for the last general election,” which in theory means the next Manitoba general election must be held on Oct. 3, 2023.
But Pallister showed the provincial government can call a general election before the mandatory election date. That’s what he did in 2019, more than a year before the fixed date. The current government is still living off of the majority mandate that election delivered.
Now that we know Stefanson can call an election, let’s consider some reasons why she should call an election:
First, Manitobans didn’t elect a Stefanson government; they had no say in choosing her as their premier. A general election would give them that choice, by electing MLAs in all 57 ridings.
Second, the life-and-death decisions Stefanson is required to make during this pandemic require the legitimacy of a clear mandate from Manitobans. She doesn’t have that mandate.
It’s true that under our Westminster form of democracy, the premier is the person government caucus members support as their leader, but the political reality is that a government’s legitimacy comes from having the trust and confidence of the public.
If the past year of poll results are accurate, it is far from clear that this government still has the confidence of Manitobans. Calling an election now would remove that cloud of uncertainty.
Third, seeking a mandate this spring as we (perhaps) emerge from the pandemic would give the next government the political authority to tackle the many important issues Manitobans will face over the next few years.
That starts with rebuilding our economy, but it also includes repairing fractured relationships within our society, strengthening our struggling health-care system, finding a viable path for education reform, managing our Crown corporations effectively, addressing the impact of climate change and helping families and individuals who have suffered during the pandemic.
There’s a lot of serious work to be done. It demands a long-term plan that will need widespread support from Manitobans to succeed — the kind of validation that comes from an election campaign.
Fourth, Stefanson’s Manitoba PC Party currently has an organizational and financial advantage over its rivals, the NDP and Liberals. That advantage may not be there next year.
Fifth, according to the current poll numbers, Stefanson and many of her MLAs could still be re-elected. There is no guarantee those numbers will improve over the next year; in fact, they could get worse.
Sixth, it appears a number of current MLAs will not seek re-election. A general election would make room for a new team, with new voices, skills and experiences.
And finally, timing is important. A multi-week lull in COVID-19 infections, combined with the loosening restrictions the premier announced last week, could improve the public mood and increase support for the government. That could be temporary, however.
Stefanson has been around politics all her life. She knows that in this game, there is always risk, but not always opportunity.
She no doubt understands that her best shot at re-election was the day after she became leader, and that the odds have gotten worse every day since then.
And, as such, she surely knows that a spring campaign may her best — maybe her only — shot at re-election.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.
email@example.com Twitter: @deverynross