The first woman to become premier in Manitoba will be Heather Stefanson.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/10/2021 (241 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The first woman to become premier in Manitoba will be Heather Stefanson.

The Progressive Conservative party voted in favour of the front-runner who had the backing of most of her caucus and the PC establishment.

She received 8,405 votes. Her rival Shelly Glover, 8,042.

"We are ready to get to work," Stefanson said in her acceptance speech as the room erupted in cheers. She thanked her husband Jason and children Tommy and Victoria, saying she was humbled to have the honour of becoming the first woman premier of Manitoba. Stefanson said she’s listened to the party members throughout the province.

 "I heard loud and clear they want to see us take a much more collaborative approach," she said.

Heather Stefanson makes her way to the podium to give a speech. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Heather Stefanson makes her way to the podium to give a speech. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

As she made her way through the crowd afterward, she and Glover embraced but did not appear on stage together in a show of unity. Glover, who left the room at the Victoria Inn after the hug, didn’t return to scrum with reporters until after most of the Stefanson supporters had left.

"She was standing behind me suddenly when I turned around," Glover told reporters, explaining the impromptu nature of the hug. "But I’m a hugger so I was pleased to hug our first female premier in Manitoba — I was honoured. Glover said she was also shocked by the result. "I really would’ve liked that all members got a chance to vote."

Glover said it was a night to celebrate but she was not yet ready to concede defeat. She said she was spending time with her supporters and would decide later if they would challenge the close election results.

"I can’t concede until I do the homework." Glover said she had to do a "fulsome debrief" with her team before deciding on whether or not she would concede.

"Tonight is about Heather Stefanson being able to break the glass ceiling, and all of us women in Manitoba and across the country saying congratulations," said Glover, who admitted that she was "shocked" by the election result. She said there were close to 26,000 party members eligible to vote and only 16,456 ballots cast (82 were spoiled and 17 were disputed).

"I said before that there were thousands unable to vote," Glover said. "I said I wished we could postpone until we have all of our member’s ballots (counted) and I remain of that mind."

Heather Stefanson hugs rival Shelly Glover after winning the leadership race. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Heather Stefanson hugs rival Shelly Glover after winning the leadership race. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

The party’s leadership election committee chairman George Orle defended the party’s handling of the election before the results were announced.

"No system is perfect," he said. "Ours was far away from inept or disorganized," he said responding to critics who complained about the process and ballots arriving late or not at all. "No one deliberately disenfranchised anyone."

The party went from just over 5,000 members to more than 25,000 members after the race began and the committee hired more staff and third party experts and security to handle the distribution and protection of the ballots. Staff fanned out around the province on Thursday to collect ballots from members to make sure they were counted.

"We were told by people outside Winnipeg how grateful they were that we had taken that," said Orle. "That’s not being disorganized," he said, noting they had a 65 per cent return rate on the ballots that were sent out.

The results still may be too close for comfort, said political analyst Christopher Adams.

"Fifty-one per cent to 49 per cent, I would say, is not a great margin," said the University of Manitoba professor who attended Saturday’s leadership event.

Shelly Glover speaks to the media after it was announced Heather Stefanson would become the first female premier of Manitoba. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Shelly Glover speaks to the media after it was announced Heather Stefanson would become the first female premier of Manitoba. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

"The PC party made a very strong claim today that they had a credible process," he said. "They made a pretty strong case that at (PC party headquarters) they weren’t messing around with the ballots," he said. But, with just two percentage points between them, he said Glover could may very well challenge the result.

"I suspect even if she challenges it, Stefanson will be able to survive," Adams said. "It might makes things complicated," he said, noting that the winner and her rival didn’t appear together on stage in a show of party unity.

"That bodes ill for the next short while," said Adams.

Glover said she hopes Stefanson and the party review the leadership race and "find improvements in this party. If this party does not change, Manitobans will change the government."

Stefanson, who in her victory speech to the party expressed confidence that the PCs will win a third majority government in the next general election, was nearly "speechless" when she spoke to reporters afterward.

"I’m just so humbled to be given this opportunity - I’m speechless almost." Stefanson didn’t say if she was surprised by the close finish.

"We did not let our guard down for one second during this campaign," she said.

Stefanson has represented the Tuxedo constituency since 2000 and has held some of the top positions in cabinet. Now she has the top job and will become Manitoba’s 24th premier after being sworn in by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon. She will officially replace interim premier Kelvin Goertzen, who was elected by caucus to serve as head of the governing PCs after the Sept. 1 resignation of Brian Pallister.

The married mother of two graduated from St. John’s-Ravenscourt School and has a political science degree from the University of Western Ontario. She worked in the office of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and as a financial planner at Wellington West Capital, before replacing former premier Gary Filmon in Tuxedo and winning in a 2000 byelection.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.