In a process that has been rushed and ethically compromised from the outset, the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba finally confirmed its two official leadership candidates — and, in the process, likely opened up a whole new can of worms.
The party announced Thursday that MLA Heather Stefanson and former MP Shelly Glover are the two official candidates in its leadership race. To qualify, each had to provide a $25,000 deposit, sell at least 1,000 memberships, get endorsements from 50 long-standing PC members and pass a vetting process.
Two others were not so lucky. Less than a week ago, MLA Shannon Martin promised to bring the "progressive" back to the PC Party; on Wednesday, he abruptly pulled out of the contest.
It remains unclear why former party chief financial officer Ken Lee was disqualified. Party sources said Mr. Lee had paid his $25,000 and sold more memberships than anyone else.
What isn’t known is whether Mr. Lee — who signalled an intention to bring an extreme right-wing agenda to the leadership campaign — had generated the necessary endorsements from party opinion leaders, or satisfied the requirement for "an interview process to ensure a commitment to the principles and values of the party." And then there is the matter of the unique approach employed for party membership sales.
As reported Thursday by the Free Press, one of Mr. Lee’s supporters was offering prospective members a $20 loan, repayable over 100 years, to cover the cost of the membership. Elections Manitoba said the strategy was not illegal, but just about anyone with any knowledge of party politics regarded it as highly unethical.
We may never know officially why Mr. Lee was not approved, as the party has declined to detail the exact reasons behind its decision. Regardless of why, the PC Party’s exclusion of Mr. Lee may have created a new enemy more threatening to its re-election chances in 2023 than any opposition party.
Mr. Lee was clearly drawing energy from the rising support in the federal election campaign for Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada. Mr. Bernier’s unbridled libertarianism has meshed well with the anti-vaccine community across the country.
Although pre-election polls are not necessarily an indication of the votes a party will receive, if Mr. Bernier were to come close to the levels of support people are currently pledging to him, he would have a decided impact on the federal election’s final result.
While he has been denied his opportunity to compete for the provincial PC leadership, either Ms. Stefanson or Ms. Glover may be chagrined to learn that, come 2023, it might be Mr. Lee who gets the last laugh.
It seems likely many of those PPC supporters who signed up to endorse Mr. Lee — and there is reason to believe there are quite a few of them — will be feeling aggrieved and looking for payback. While some might just switch their support to another candidate, others may prefer to become diehard opponents of the PC Party in the 2023 provincial election. With public support already significantly eroded, that is the last thing the Tories need.
In many ways, Mr. Lee’s disqualification is a fitting next chapter in a Tory leadership process that has been a shambles from the start. From the moment it became apparent Ms. Stefanson had steered the party towards an expedited leadership campaign whose desired outcome was an acclamation, this process seems to have done far more harm than good to the Tory brand.
And while he has been denied his opportunity to compete for the provincial PC leadership, either Ms. Stefanson or Ms. Glover may be chagrined to learn that, come 2023, it might be Mr. Lee who gets the last laugh.