With Premier Brian Pallister announcing he will not be seeking re-election, many are wondering who will be next to take the top spot at the Manitoba Legislature.
University of Manitoba political studies adjunct professor Christopher Adams says there’s no obvious leader-in-waiting.
“There isn’t really a king in waiting now that the old king is about to leave,” Adams told Global News. “I would say there have been other times when Jean Chretien stepped down as Prime Minister, there was Paul Martin [as] leader-in-waiting, and when Mulroney stepped down it was Kim Campbell. So you usually do see in some situations where there is somebody who is really in the forefront.”
Adams says some names being floated include Finance Minister Scott Fielding, Families Minister Rochelle Squires, Health Minister Heather Stefanson, Justice Minister Cameron Friesen, and Deputy Premier Kelvin Goertzen.
But he also says there are some names circulating from outside caucus, including Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman MP James Bezan, Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Bergen, and even Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.
“Brian Bowman has indicated he’s not running for mayor again. He has said he doesn’t want to be a professional or lifelong politician, but at the same time, I’m sure he’s getting phone calls to ask if he’s interested in running for the leadership,” Adams said.
Adams also says whoever will be filling those shoes will have their work cut out for them, after Premier Brian Pallister and the Manitoba PCs faced criticism over the COVID-19 hospital crisis, Bill 64 and issues surrounding reconciliation.
“I think the question a lot of people are asking is who will lead the Progressive Conservative Party and be able to salvage the situation for the Progressive Conservative Party, because as you know the polls right now really show them in the basement, especially in Winnipeg,” he said.
“Those are two areas — health care and education — if you don’t have voters happy with those two policy sectors, you’re in real trouble. You lose your middle-class voters. So what the government will need to do is allay the fears of voters that they’ve got education on a good path and they’ve got health care on a good path, and right now I don’t think there are a lot of people who think they are on a good path.”
Probe Research principal Curtis Brown says he believes it will be a tight race.
“I would think that it’s going to be for the first time in a very long time, a competitive race,” Brown said.
He also says it is a possibility that the new leader could come from outside the caucus.
“Just because of the fact the party has been struggling a bit and is behind the NDP in the polls, whether they would try to go to someone outside to put more of a fresh face on the PC party and the government,” he said.
The premier has hinted in the past that he likely would not seek re-election, and Brown says officially announcing it mid-term, isn’t surprising either.
“The timing did make sense,” Brown added.
“The biggest thing — I think this will be the thing that a lot of Progressive Conservative supporters, MLAs and cabinet ministers will be looking at — is just this particular timing potentially gives them enough time under a new leader to be able to reset things, to be able to go to Manitobans and say ‘things are different, we have a different leader, we’re different now, we’re doing different things.’”
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