Pallister’s early exit gives Manitoba PCs chance to ‘push the reset button,’ expert says

Brian Pallister’s announcement that he’ll step down as Manitoba premier this week provides an opportunity for the Progressive Conservative Party, a political expert says.

“He’s leaving at a point in which the party is having some difficulties, but I think his colleagues are hoping that this leadership race will in some ways rejuvenate the party,” said Christopher Adams, an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

“It gives the party an opportunity to push the reset button. Whether voters will accept that button being reset is another question.”

The premier initially announced his plans to step down as leader on Aug. 10 but didn’t provide an exact date until now.

In a statement released on Monday morning, Pallister said he has told Lt.-Gov Janice Filmon that his resignation is effective 8 a.m. Wednesday. That is well before the party votes for a new leader on Oct. 30. 

Part of the reasoning behind the decision to step down early was a desire to ensure the election of his successor is free of “any perception of any influence” from his office, the statement said.

Adams said the announcement didn’t surprise him, but the comments Pallister made about his role in the leadership race struck him as odd.

“He could easily have stayed around and remained neutral. It’s not uncommon for leaders to announce an upcoming retirement and stay neutral during a leadership race,” Adams said.

In his statement, Pallister said he leaves office “immensely proud of the bold new directions and transformations our government took to fix the finances, repair our services and rebuild the economy of Manitoba.”

He lauded his party for its investments in health care, education and family services and for bringing in the province’s first balanced budget in 11 years — though the COVID-19 pandemic made short work of that.

“We did this while lowering the tax burden on every working person and family, more than any other province, to keep making life affordable for Manitobans,” Pallister’s statement said.

“The greatest honour of my life has been serving as Manitoba’s 22nd premier.”

Christopher Adams, an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, says he thinks Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives hope electing a new leader will help rejuvenate the struggling party. (CBC)

The race is well underway to find Pallister’s replacement, with three people declaring they plan to run for the leadership role.

“I think [Pallister] was going to feel uncomfortable being in caucus, leading his cabinet while not really holding the reins of power,” Adams said.

“I think it was just an untenable situation for him.”

To date, former health minister Heather Stefanson, former member of Parliament Shelly Glover and Progressive Conservative backbencher Shannon Martin have announced plans to run for leader.

With someone like Deputy Premier Kelvin Goertzen ready to potentially stand in as interim premier until a new leader is chosen, Adams said Pallister is likely “leaving with the sense that there’s somebody who can competently step into his shoes.”

Although the interim premier hasn’t been announced, Adams is pretty convinced it will be Goertzen, who has been a Progressive Conservative MLA since 2003.

“Kelvin Goertzen will be the interim premier. The reason why I say that is he doesn’t have leadership aspirations this time around,” Adams said. “I think he’s widely respected by the caucus so he seems to be the most logical fit.”

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said it will take years for the province to recover from the legacy left by Pallister’s government.

“The PCs championed Pallister’s cuts to health care every step of the way that forced us to send patients out of province during the third wave,” he said in an emailed statement.

“Now they’ve left us without a premier and with our third health minister of the pandemic as families prepare to return to school and Manitobans worry about a fourth wave.”

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