WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s governing Progressive Conservatives chose Heather Stefanson as their new leader and the province’s next premier on Saturday, although her opponent was not ready to concede the close race.
Stefanson, the province’s former health minister, defeated former member of Parliament Shelly Glover by garnering 51 per cent of the more than 16,000 votes cast. Glover secured 49 per cent.
Stefanson will become the first woman to serve as Manitoba’s premier and the only female premier among the 10 provinces once she is sworn in in the coming days.
She promised a more conciliatory tone from the Tory government, which sank in opinion polls under former premier Brian Pallister before he stepped down in September.
“I heard loud and clear that (Manitobans) want to see us take a much more collaborative approach when it comes to working with other levels of government and with stakeholders in our community,” Stefanson said in her victory speech.
While the party immediately recognized Stefanson’s win, Glover said she would hold back until she could analyze the results.
“I really can’t concede until I do the homework,” said Glover, who hugged Stefanson immediately after the results. She would not say when she would make a decision.
The contest was marred by complaints that many party members did not receive mail-in ballots in time to vote. Glover called for the vote count to be delayed, but the party refused.
George Orle, head of the party’s leadership election committee, told the assembled members Saturday the Tories made every effort to have everyone vote.
Ballots were mailed to members in early October and were to be returned, either in person or by mail, by Friday. Some came back as undeliverable and too late for them to be mailed out again, Orle said, so the party had workers go around the province to set up mobile locations where ballots could be picked up and returned.
“No system is perfect, but ours was very far away from inept or disorganized, and there was no one who was deliberately disenfranchised in this process,” Orle said.
Stefanson said she will soon decide on forming a cabinet, set a date to recall the legislature, and call a byelection to fill Pallister’s former seat.
One political analyst said Stefanson must reach out to people who Pallister had angered if the Tories want to rebound in the polls in time for the next election in 2023.
“She’s got to … reach out to the public sector, the Indigenous community and so forth,” said Christopher Adams, adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
The Opposition NDP said the Tories’ new leadership changes little of substance. Stefanson was health minister last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic spiked and dozens of patients in intensive care had to be flown to other provinces due to a lack of beds.
“No one believes Mr. Pallister’s failed health minister can fix the crisis in our health-care system,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in a written statement.