Opinion

There is a good reason why Ken Lee was rejected as a leadership candidate for Manitoba’s PC party. The party can’t say publicly why it turned down his application this week because the vetting process is confidential. But I can.

There is a good reason why Ken Lee was rejected as a leadership candidate for Manitoba’s PC party. The party can’t say publicly why it turned down his application this week because the vetting process is confidential. But I can.

Lee was a good friend of mine for many years before he began to slide into a dark hole of conspiracy theories, Trumpism and anti-social behaviour. I knew him long before he was active in politics, prior to his 10-year stint as chief financial officer of the PC party. He was a fellow runner whom I met through mutual friends in the running community.

Lee was chosen as CFO in the early 2000s under party leader Stuart Murray, not only because of his knack for numbers (he’s a chartered accountant who owns his own firm) but because of his work ethic and dogged determination to acquire expertise in elections finance laws. He was an honest and excellent CFO who served his party well.

Lee left the party after Brian Pallister became leader in 2012. Like many, Lee crossed swords with the former premier. He stayed on as the official agent for Tory MLA Janice Morley-Lecomte and helped run her election campaigns. As time went on, he found himself increasingly alienated from a party that he had had ties to for most, if not all, of his adult life.

Lee was never a "progressive" conservative, at least not since I’ve known him. He didn’t know what the term meant. He was always a fiscal hawk who believed in smaller government. He had little time for the social values side of his party. That gap began to widen a few years ago.

Former PC Party chief financial officer Ken Lee. (FACEBOOK)

Former PC Party chief financial officer Ken Lee. (FACEBOOK)

When Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in 2016, Lee became an instant and devoted follower, despite the Trump’s anti-immigration, racist, and climate change-denying policies. Lee was falling into a world of extremism, the kind of personal transition that puts great strain on friendships.

His political views further distanced him from the PC party, whose principles and values he increasingly rejected.

Lee is a climate-change denier. He does not believe human beings are contributing to the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. He is convinced it’s a hoax and rejects the consensus among the world’s scientists that we are in a climate emergency.

Lee also does not believe in reconciliation with Indigenous people. Lee, who is of Chinese descent, grew up in poverty in the North End of Winnipeg and is self-made. He believes others should be able to overcome obstacles of race and poverty by pulling themselves up by the boot straps, as he did.

Political parties have an obligation to vet candidates, especially those who want to run for leader, to ensure their values align with those of the party. Lee’s do not. It’s almost certainly why he was rejected as a leadership candidate.

My former friend’s extremist views hardened when the pandemic hit. The extraordinary public health measures governments were forced to take to contain COVID-19, including the shutting down of businesses and schools, represented an untenable invasion of the state into the lives of Canadians, according to Lee. Like climate change, the pandemic was a hoax, in his view.

I don’t know first-hand what Lee thinks about COVID-19 vaccines and their role in ending the pandemic. We stopped talking well over a year ago. But judging from his campaign material, he appears to have fallen into the anti-science, anti-vaccine crowd which views proof-of-vaccine policies — now being implemented all over the world (even in Alberta) — as a violation of human rights.

I have no insight into what topics were canvassed with Lee during his leadership interview with the PC party. But it would be shocking if these and other issues were not discussed.

Political parties have an obligation to vet candidates, especially those who want to run for leader, to ensure their values align with those of the party. Lee’s do not. It’s almost certainly why he was rejected as a leadership candidate.

Lee would be a better fit to run for the People’s Party of Canada, where his worldview would be embraced. He is no more suited to be at the helm of the PC party of Manitoba than he is to seek the leadership of the NDP or Liberals.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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