A fresh start. A clean slate. A new beginning. A forward focus. A unified and re-energized party.

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This article was published 31/10/2021 (208 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

For premier-designate Heather Stefanson, fence-mending within the PC party will be a long and arduous process. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

For premier-designate Heather Stefanson, fence-mending within the PC party will be a long and arduous process. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

A fresh start. A clean slate. A new beginning. A forward focus. A unified and re-energized party.

These are things Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative party seems to have been denied by the result of a leadership race that has left a large swath of the membership critical of the process and displeased with, or distrustful of, the result.

Former cabinet minister Heather Stefanson, who entered the contest early with the support of a majority of the elected PC caucus and an aggressive approach that seemed designed to scare off other potential leadership aspirants, was declared the winner on Saturday.

But the slim margin of victory — Ms. Stefanson received 8,405 votes, compared to rival Shelly Glover’s 8,042 — was undoubtedly not the result the new leader’s supporters desired.

Rather than receiving a decisive mandate that would allow her to move forward confidently as the new leader and Manitoba’s premier-designate, Ms. Stefanson now finds herself in charge of a party divided — one in which roughly half the eligible members did not support her leadership bid; one in which deficiencies in the mail-in voting process allegedly left a significant number of voters unable to cast ballots in time, prompting Ms. Glover to call for the vote count to be delayed; and one in which the losing candidate declared she would not concede when the margin of victory was just 363 votes, or 2.2 per cent of votes cast.

When asked on Saturday what role she would consider taking in a Stefanson government, Ms. Glover provided a terse response: "Premier."

Barring any actions due to the missing/delayed-votes, however, it is in fact Ms. Stefanson who will be sworn in as premier. And when she does, she faces the daunting challenge of reshaping a party whose popularity has plummeted in the wake of austere policy-making, abrasive leadership and an often-calamitous pandemic response that left the already-strained health-care system in tatters and Manitobans furious.

In accepting the razor-thin victory result, Ms. Stefanson signalled she intends to make the PC party more welcoming to the likes of First Nations and Métis people, labour and business groups, and Manitoba’s wide range of cultural and ethnic communities, who "didn’t necessarily feel comfortable being part of our party."

Such open-armed optimism seems not to consider the reality that Ms. Stefanson was a front-bench standard-bearer for the government whose policies are responsible for the disaffection she describes. If there’s one thing she was not, ever, under Pallister, it’s a publicly dissenting voice.

Still, if one accepts at face value Ms. Stefanson’s commitment to diversity, questions remain regarding how she will assuage the resentment of the 49 per cent of current members who did not vote for her — many of whom seemed to respond to Ms. Glover’s vague acquiescences to anti-vaccine, anti-restriction sentiment.

Fence-mending on the PC party landscape will be a long and arduous process. Step 1 for Ms. Stefanson will be securing a definitive, unified endorsement from the party’s membership. For the sake of the party and the province, one can only wish her the best of luck in the endeavour.