THE adage used to be that if a woman was running for political-party leadership, it usually meant the party was in need of CPR. Some might think this is the case for the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives — after all, it has not one, but two women running.
Former MP Shelly Glover told the Free Press on Tuesday she intends to run against Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson. Glover represented the riding of Saint Boniface from 2008 until 2015; she did not stand for re-election in 2015.
Stefanson announced last week she is running, endorsed by 24 of her 35 caucus colleagues. On Tuesday, maverick Riel MLA Rochelle Squires ended speculation by announcing she will not run, and will focus instead on her commitment to her cabinet responsibilities. Meanwhile, Winnipeg City Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James) is still weighing his options.
Should Stefanson or Glover win, she will become Manitoba’s first female premier. Sharon Carstairs was Manitoba’s (and Canada’s) first female leader of the opposition when she took the helm of the province’s broken Liberals back in 1988. The NDP under Howard Pawley had been reduced to third-party status as Gary Filmon’s PCs won a minority; Carstairs had rebuilt the Liberals, and they took 20 of 57 seats, owing largely to support from disenchanted NDP voters.
So much has changed for women in politics since Carstairs. Thankfully.
Whichever candidate is successful in the PC Party race will have two years left before the next election. According to political scientist and researcher Linda Trimble, "That’s a lot of time left to make headway — take a look at Kathleen Wynne, for example." The former Ontario premier, the first female to hold the office in that province, took over the helm in 2013 from Dalton McGuinty, whose Liberal minority government was mired in poor ratings and scandal. Wynne ended up leading the party to a decisive majority in 2014.
Trimble says the Conservative Party has been quite positive for women leaders overall. "For example, Kathy Dunderdale was the first female premier of… Newfoundland and Labrador. And of course, our first and, so far, only female prime minister was a Conservative: Kim Campbell."
Other notable firsts? Canada’s first female premier was B.C.’s Rita Johnston, who inherited Social Credit leader Bill Vander Zalm’s scandal-plagued government in 1991 and was defeated in 1992. Yukon’s Pat Duncan, a Liberal, became the first woman to defeat a sitting premier in 2000. However, after some of her MLAs defected to the opposition, she was reduced to a minority government and called a snap election.
Both Johnston and Duncan show that for women, it’s not always a direct trajectory to success. So far, the only female politician to win back-to-back victories is Christy Clark, the B.C. Liberal premier from 2011 to 2017. At one point, Clark was premier in B.C., Alison Redford was the Conservative premier in Alberta, Wynne held office in Ontario, Pauline Marois was the Parti Quebecois premier of Quebec, Eva Aariak was the premier in Nunavut and Dunderdale was chief in Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s the only time in Canadian history women simultaneously led governments in six regions — which, at the time, represented about 88 per cent of Canada’s population.
None of those women holds power now. At present, Caroline Cochrane is the lone female first minister, representing the Northwest Territories.
However, Trimble makes it clear that women can no longer be viewed as only a second choice in politics.
"We come too far, and too much has changed for us to see it that way," she says. "It’s exciting to see this happening in Manitoba. This is a chance for Stefanson and Glover to change the party over the next two years. It will be fascinating."
Earlier this week, the details regarding the leadership race were released. It will cost leadership contestants $25,000 to enter the race and by Sept. 15 they must have signed up at least 1,000 party members. The new leader and premier will be chosen through a one-member/one-vote process; there will not be any delegates to determine the result. Voting will be conducted by mail, and the ballots will be counted in Winnipeg on Oct. 30.
Shannon Sampert is a Winnipeg-based political scientist and the former politics and perspectives editor of the Winnipeg Free Press.