Right in the centre - Expediency won out over excellence


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

It’s always amazing how willing people are to ignore known history and available experience when their main goal is expediency rather than excellence. That pretty much sums up the Progressive Conservative Manitoba party leadership race debacle that came to a vote on Oct. 30. The PC MB leadership could have been both successful and excellent, but it fell far short.

PC Manitoba made many mistakes in the process. That said, the party staff worked very hard to make it all happen, but they were given an impossible task by the party’s Executive Council (EC).

Former Premier Brian Pallister stepped down as leader in mid-summer. The Executive Council acted within their mandate to set up an election process to select a new leader.

Mistake number one– it should be noted that a big chunk of the Executive Council are MLAs and most of them pledged their support to Heather Stefanson. Her supporters had a big say in how the process would work and weighted the process in her favour. MLAs seemed to forget that they only have one vote, just like every member. They should have at least had the decency to wait to declare their preferences until they knew who was in the race.

Mistake number two– the biggest mistake was setting the leadership election process into action so quickly and in the middle of a federal election. There was no need to rush and history shows that. When Stu Murray was acclaimed as leader in 1999, it was a search process that took several months. When Murray was ousted by the party, it took several months to set up the 2006 leadership race and Hugh McFadyen was elected. When Hugh McFadyen resigned, it took several months of political planning and only one candidate came forward and that was Brian Pallister.

Mistake number three– instead of following the accepted and expected rules from the 2006 leadership race, the EC raised the entry fee from $10,000 to $25,000. That stopped some candidates from getting involved.

Mistake number four– the LEC made it compulsory for candidates to sell 1,000 memberships. Several candidates backed off on the basis of this new criteria. The new thresholds were too high and too risky.

Mistake number five– there was no way the party was going to get all the memberships in and recorded, ballots printed and sent out and get them back under the short deadlines. Ballots were sent out Oct. 11 and had to be back by Oct. 29. That’s just 18 days.

Mistake number six– the LEC was also caught off guard when, out of nowhere, came a third candidate, former party treasurer Ken Lee. He reportedly met all the criteria, sold perhaps 4,000 memberships and raised the $25,000 entry fee. The party declined his nomination. It was a big mistake to not tell Lee or anyone else why he was declined.

Mistake number seven– they didn’t hire enough staff soon enough. 20,000 new memberships at $20 each is $400,000. That should have been ample funds to do a better job. Party HQ was overwhelmed, as phone calls almost always went to an answering machine and many calls were not returned.

Mistake number eight– early on, it became apparent that hundreds of members who paid their 20 bucks didn’t get a ballot.

Instead of extending the voting deadline a couple of weeks, the LEC refused. That was a very bad move. An extension would have cost very little and ensured that everyone who was entitled to a ballot received one and had time to get it back in to be counted.

Mistake number nine– the party promised there would be places around the province to drop off ballots. That never happened.

Mistake number 10– to try and compensate for people not receiving their ballots, the LEC set up a few  last-minute places where people could drive to and get their ballot and vote. These last minute voting arrangements were only announced mid-afternoon on Thursday, Oct. 28 to be noon to 4:00  pm on Friday, Oct. 29. That short of a timeline was very bad.

The LEC and the EC likely never realized how many memberships would be sold. By handling the process as badly as they did, it showed the PC Party of Manitoba has a lot of voter support, but organizationally, it’s very broken. The party should recognize the need to re-build its organizational strength.

But before an organization can solve a problem, they have to be ready to accept that they have a problem. PC Manitoba has a huge problem and if they don’t change, the voters may hoof them out of office.

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.