Clarke’s departure could be one of many

Eileen Clarke’s decision not to seek re-election as member of the legislature for Agassiz may echo loudly through Progressive Conservative Party ranks.

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Opinion

Eileen Clarke’s decision not to seek re-election as member of the legislature for Agassiz may echo loudly through Progressive Conservative Party ranks.

Heather Stefanson’s selection nine months ago as party leader and premier replacing Brian Pallister was supposed to put a more attractive face on Manitoba’s ruling party. Ms. Clarke quit Mr. Pallister’s cabinet after his remarks about Indigenous protests at the legislature showed her the premier was not listening to other voices in cabinet and caucus. Now she is planning to step away from elected office altogether despite Ms. Stefanson’s kinder, gentler personal style.

Ms. Clarke’s resignation from cabinet on July 14, 2021 did her no obvious good. She did not thrust herself forward as leader of a faction or as an aspiring party leader. She simply withdrew from a government whose policy she could not support. Her resignation triggered a caucus revolt long in preparation aimed at removing Mr. Pallister and putting Ms. Stefanson in his place.

The party needed a new leader who could rally the support of PCs who had been alienated by Mr. Pallister’s policy and manner. Ms. Clarke’s decision to retire delivers bad news: Ms. Stefanson’s leadership has not been enough to keep one important player on the team. It warns that Ms. Clarke may speak for many today as she did a year ago.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Agassiz MLA Eileen Clarke is leaving politics.

Ms. Clarke has been troubled by the heavy demands of elected office. There is no reason to doubt her desire for release from duties that prevent her from enjoying other activities.

Nor is there reason to doubt that former resources minister Scott Fielding genuinely wanted to pursue other career options when he announced his resignation from the Stefanson government two months ago.

Ms. Clarke’s desire for more time to herself and Mr. Fielding’s interest in other career options would be less persuasive if Ms. Stefanson were able to show them a decent prospect that they would govern Manitoba after the next election. In the absence of any such prospect, other avenues look more appealing.

The next election would ordinarily be held in October next year. Manitobans are therefore stuck, for another year, with a government that seems merely to be going through the motions of governing as its senior members revise their career plans and turn their minds to life after elected office.

Ms. Clarke’s desire for more time to herself and Mr. Fielding’s interest in other career options would be less persuasive if Ms. Stefanson were able to show them a decent prospect that they would govern Manitoba after the next election.

Mr. Pallister at least spared the public from watching him cling to office after his party deserted him. Former premier Greg Selinger, in similar circumstances, fought back against New Democratic Party colleagues who advised him to quit, narrowly won a leadership vote in March 2015 and continued to hold office until the voters humiliated his party at the general election a year later. The NDP is still struggling to recover from that catastrophic year of internal warfare.

Ms. Stefanson will have her work cut out recruiting new supporters to fill the gaps in her front line as her current colleagues drift away. The calibre and prominence of her recruits may give the public some clues about the way she wants her party to evolve and what she thinks Manitobans want from their provincial government.

Ms. Clarke has served her party and her province well, and has earned the right to a peaceful retirement. Her party should thank her for standing up for her principles while others were lying low for fear of angering their leader. She spoke truth to power.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Brian Pallister at least spared the public from watching him cling to office after his party deserted him.
History

Updated on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 9:30 AM CDT: Corrects typos

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