The coronation, it seems, has been postponed.
Former MP Shelly Glover told the Free Press on Tuesday she intends to apply to run for Manitoba’s soon-to-be-vacant Progressive Conservative Party leadership, throwing a significant roadblock onto what former health minister Heather Stefanson seemed intent on paving as a smooth and unobstructed path to the premier’s chair.
With Families Minister Rochelle Squires and Finance Minister Scott Fielding having declared they will not follow through on earlier suggestions each might pursue a leadership bid, no real chance remains that the Tuxedo MLA and — until Tuesday — sole declared candidate will face any credible competition from inside the Tory caucus.
The descriptives attached to Ms. Stefanson’s strategically pre-emptive entry into the leadership race — in addition to "coronation," "palace coup" had been uttered in some quarters — seem somewhat more blunted now than when they were first expressed after Ms. Stefanson’s unusual but, within party ranks, apparently effective announcement on Aug. 18 that she intends to step into the breach when Premier Brian Pallister makes his exit from public life, a move that is expected sometime before the end of October.
Ms. Stefanson arrived at her event last week with what appeared to be a fully up-and-running campaign machine and the visible support of a majority of the PC caucus, including several members of the current cabinet — rather compelling evidence that she had been considering a leadership run for some time while serving as health minister during Manitoba’s fever-pitched and misjudgment-plagued pandemic battle.
The forceful nature of Ms. Stefanson’s "Together with Heather" campaign launch clearly succeeded in its goal of scaring off other PC-caucus leadership hopefuls, leading some to suggest her installment as leader had taken on the air of a foregone conclusion.
Not so fast, said Ms. Glover.
The former Winnipeg Police Service officer, who represented Saint Boniface from 2008 to 2015 and served as minister of Canadian heritage and official languages under prime minister Stephen Harper, had also been considering a run for the provincial leadership, and what clinched her decision was the presumptuous manner in which Ms. Stefanson’s team appeared to be seizing control of the process.
"I think the rules are designed to keep everyone else out of the race, and that bothers me a lot," said Ms. Glover, referring to the requirements — laid out by the PC Party’s executive council — for leadership candidates to post a $25,000 entry fee and sign up at least 1,000 new or renewing party members, with a looming Sept. 15 deadline for meeting eligibility conditions.
"It makes me mad and that, frankly, is motivating me to run."
"It makes me mad and that, frankly, is motivating me to run." – Shelly Glover
Whether any other candidates will join the provincial PC leadership pursuit remains to be seen, but what’s clear now is that Ms. Glover’s announced intention to run creates the potential for an interesting and hotly contested endeavour. By dint of her very visible caucus support, Ms. Stefanson seems to be the Manitoba PC Party’s favoured choice, but Ms. Glover comes to the premierial pursuit unencumbered by any direct association with Mr. Pallister’s autocratic inclinations, pandemic missteps and plummeting popularity.
Ms. Stefanson, on the other hand — despite campaign-launch denunciations of her boss’s leadership style and a promised retraction of the unpopular Bill 64 education reorganization — has spent the past five years in outwardly acquiescent lockstep with Mr. Pallister’s performance.
In announcing her candidacy, Ms. Stefanson said it’s time for her party to listen. An open and spirited leadership competition might signal to Manitobans that such a thing is actually possible.