Heather Stefanson is set to become the next leader of Manitoba’s progressive conservative party.
The MLA for Tuxedo announced Wednesday that she was resigning from her post as Manitoba’s health minister on Wednesday and her intention to campaign to succeed Prime Minister Brian Pallister as party leader.
“Over the past 18 months, I’ve heard from countless Manitobans looking for a different approach,” Stefanson said at a news conference announcing his leadership offer on Wednesday.
“They are looking for someone who can heal our divisions and bring Manitobans together for a shared vision that puts our families, our communities and our small businesses first.”
Stefanson promised as party leader that she would do away with a controversial piece of legislation that would revise the kindergarten to 12-year education in Manitoba.
Bill 64 would see locally elected school boards dissolved in favor of a central education authority, among other reforms.
“If [I’m] elected leader of our party, Bill 64 will be passed, ”she said, adding that a number of members of the assembly who were present at her press conference have discussed scrapping the bill.
“We do not hear very good things [about this bill], and I think it’s time for us to start listening to Manitobans. “
She also said she will run a campaign to strengthen the health care system and job creation and with a focus on reconciliation and economic opportunities for indigenous peoples.
Pallister announced earlier this month that he intends to step down before the next election in 2023, but did not provide a fixed timeline of when he plans to do so.
Audrey Gordon, Manitoba’s Minister of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery, will also take on the duties of health minister, the province announced on Wednesday.
Other possible candidates
Stefanson is the first person to officially declare a PC leadership, but she may face a number of competitors in the race.
Last week, Winnipeg City Council Finance Chairman Scott Gillingham (St. James) confirmed that he is considering a race to succeed Pallister.
“I welcome Minister Stefanson to the race and look forward to the enthusiasm, expansion and renewal of society that only robust competition and new leadership will bring,” Gillingham said in an email to CBC News on Wednesday.
Family Minister Rochelle Squires also said last week that she is considering running.
Finance Minister Scott Fielding and former Conservative MP Shelly Glover have also said they are considering leadership.
“I wish her the best of luck,” Glover said in an email statement Wednesday, though her statement went on to list a number of promises she hopes Stefanson will make, including promising “no more financial shutdowns” and “address lack of resources in… [long-term care and personal care home] facilities. “
Glover also urged Stefanson to “apologize for her silence about the insensitive and … [egregious] comments on colonialism and comments on housing schools recently made by others in the Assembly. “
Earlier this month Pallister said he was sorry for the misunderstanding caused by comments he made after statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth were toppled on the Legislature on Canada Day. The prime minister said on July 7 that settlers in Canada “did not come here to destroy anything, they came here to build.”
After that, newly appointed Indigenous Minister Alan Lagimodiere has also attracted criticism for comments suggesting that those who ran villa schools Indigenous students were forced to attend, believing they were doing the right thing.
Lagimodiere later apologized for these comments and said he believes the schools were part of a genocide.
When asked on Wednesday why she had not spoken publicly about Pallister’s comments, Stefanson said she had had conversations about the issue.
“It’s certainly not everything that is done publicly in front of the media, and what I want to say is that housing schools, what happened, is absolutely awful,” she said, adding that her voice has been heard behind the scenes.
In an email, Stefansson’s campaign said her leadership offer has the support of 24 MPs in the PC Assembly with 36 members.
Several cabinet members are on that list, including Gordon, Lagimodiere, Justice Minister Cameron Friesen and Education Minister Cliff Cullen.
‘There is no change here’: Kinew
This support shows opposition leader Wab Kinew that Stefanson could provide more of the same kind of leadership that the current prime minister provides.
“We saw that the team around her is exactly the same team that Pallister put together,” Kinew said.
“There’s no change here. That’s exactly what the Manitobans hated about Mr Pallister’s approach cuts in health care, the poor performance under COVID for Round 2.”
The NDP leader said the PC Assembly is distancing itself from Bill 64 now because it is “convenient” during a leadership race.
Mary Agnes Welch, a partner at Probe Research, said Stefanson did a number of things right and announced her bid for leadership, including distancing herself from Pallister.
Stefansson’s logo, “Heather Together” and her messages to listen, be more open and inclusive are “in direct contrast to the current premiere,” Welch said.
Even the many MPs — both county and city representatives — who were behind Stefanson were a smart strategy that could deter other potential candidates, Welch said.
Whoever is elected to lead the party has a hard road ahead of him, Welch said.
“I think digging out of the hole that the Prime Minister has created for the party will be really tough. However, it is not insurmountable,” she said.
“Someone has two full years to rethink things, [and] get to know Manitobans. “
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