Right in the centre - A tough battle is needed


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

The Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba is about to elect a new leader. Brian Pallister has said he won’t run in the next election. Let it be said in this space that Brian Pallister took a very weakened PC party and made it into two majority governments. He faced down a weak and lazy party establishment and infused some backbone into sitting MLAs and new candidates alike. He ran a fairly good government and even in the COVID-19 crisis, he did as well or better than most provincial leaders across Canada.

By the way, he has strong rural roots, something that was missing for years in all Manitoba political parties.The last rural-based leader of any party before Pallister was Walter Weir, of Minnedosa, who left politics in 1969, 52 years ago.

PC Manitoba has had only a handful of leaders since then: Gary Filmon, Stu Murray, Hugh McFadyen and Brian Pallister. Filmon won in 1983 against rural candidates Clayton Manness and Brian Ransom. Stu Murray was acclaimed, largely by the Winnipeg-run party establishment. Ironically, that same establishment ousted Murray in a convention-based coup that I personally witnessed. It was nasty. 

The centrally located party establishment pre-chose Hugh McFadyen to be leadership winner. Full disclosure: I ran in that race, as did Ron Schuler. Hugh McFadyen was put in place by a dominant group that recognized that McFadyen is very smart and spoke reasonably well. He, and his handlers, had a good grasp of policy, but very little capacity to implement it and not enough courage to try. Unfortunately for the party, they lost two elections under McFadyen and actually dropped their seat total. 

Brian Pallister came along and was acclaimed leader after that second loss. I don’t think Pallister was ever a favourite of the PC party establishment either, as elusive as that grouping may be to identify.

S, there you have it folks. Only two contested leadership races since 1983.The track record of the Winnipeg establishment isn’t all that good. And they are about to strike a time-shortened anvil of political action again. The rules have been set. There’s a $25,000 deposit required to run. The deadline to declare is Sept. 15. The deadline to sell memberships is Sept. 30.

Once again, that elusive party establishment has set the entry bar high with tight and expensive deadlines.

Will this process deliver the best leader or the leader that the majority of PC members want? It may, but with a one-member-one-vote system, the members must realize they have 30 days to get involved or it’s too late.

Filmon won a leadership race, but at a delegated convention in 1983. He went on to be a successful premier. Stu Murray was acclaimed and it didn’t end well. Hugh McFadyen was basically acclaimed and it didn’t end well. Pallister was acclaimed but the party was so weak that nobody wanted the job.

Now there is a race on, but there is a huge move afoot to bring about another acclamation. Heather Stefanson is a good candidate with plenty of experience. She speaks fairly well, but doesn’t like the public limelight. She is hardly what one would call battle-hardened. She has been elected several times in a safe Winnipeg seat. She has had very few real political battles and, should she be successful in this leadership bid, she will face much tougher battles than she has ever had to face in the past. If she is elected, she has to prove she can battle it out on the doorsteps, in the media and then in the legislature.

What the PC party needs is a race and they may still get one. What they don’t need is another acclamation. What they don’t need is another weak-kneed race like the one in 2006. One where candidates are squeezed out by large deposits, short time lines and an aloof, if not hostile, mostly Winnipeg-based party establishment.

The leadership race doesn’t need to get nasty either, like the Stu Murray ousting. It also must have candidates who can get their team to sell memberships in a hurry and get the members to actually mail in their ballots.

With the deadlines and criteria now set out, it is essential that one or two more strong candidates come forward, but they will have the absolute busiest times of their lives between now and Oct. 30.

In spite of my rural roots, the leader doesn’t have to be from rural Manitoba. They don’t have to be a woman or a man, either is good. They have to be able to think, speak, fight for real and necessary values and have a thick skin covering a strong body and heart. A heart for people ahead of power. 

The PC Party has a tall order to fill in a little over 30 days until membership deadline.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.