Manitoba Tories discuss election strategy, leadership rules at annual meeting

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Manitoba’s governing Progressive Conservatives laid the groundwork Saturday for their upcoming election campaign. They also looked at potential changes to their leadership selection process that was widely criticized during the last race for the party helm.

Premier Heather Stefanson revealed a new slogan – “Fighting for Manitobans” – and told more than 200 delegates to prepare for the election slated for Oct. 3.

“We need to fight to prevent NDP tax hikes. We need to fight their soft-on-crime agenda,” Stefanson told the crowd.

In her speech aimed at firing up party faithful, Stefanson repeatedly accused Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew of being in favour of defunding police, which Kinew has denied. She offered no evidence of any NDP plan for tax increases other than tax hikes enacted under the former NDP government in place before Kinew was elected.

The Tories also revealed a new radio ad and discussed campaign strategy, although reporters were asked to leave the room for that session.

The Tories have been trailing the New Democrats in opinion polls for more than two years. This year, they have also started to trail the NDP in the amount of money in the bank for the first time in a decade.

Stefanson said fundraising has picked up and new ads will hit the airwaves “in the next very short while.” The Tories’ major annual fundraising event _ a dinner that coincides with the weekend meeting – was sold out with 1,300 tickets purchased, the party said.

The party has also begun to review its rules for leadership elections. When Stefanson became leader in 2021, there was a late surge in party membership and many people complained they did not receive mail-in ballots in time to vote.

Stefanson’s opponent, Shelly Glover, alleged there were voting irregularities and challenged the results in court. A judge rejected her claims.

In a session closed to media Saturday, the party presented a report outlining possible changes to the leadership rules.

Speaking to reporters afterward, party president Brent Pooles offered few details.

“I think that at the end of the day, we just want to make sure that every single (one) of our 28,000 members feel that their voice has been heard and they’re given the opportunity to vote when the time comes,” Pooles said.

When pressed on specifics, Pooles said the rule that allows people to buy memberships as late as 30 days before the leadership vote “might be part” of the changes. The party was hard-pressed in 2021 to process thousands of new members and have mail-in ballots sent out and returned within a month.

Pooles would not say whether the party is looking at moving away from its current system of allowing every member to vote. Some other parties use a delegate system, in which party members send a smaller number of delegates from each constituency to represent them and vote for a leader.

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen, who was interim Tory leader during the 2021 leadership race, said some members have asked for more ways to vote, given modern technology.

“Not everybody’s comfortable with different forms of voting, but there are a lot more options than there were 15 or 20 years ago, and the rules haven’t been updated for that long,” Goertzen said.

A party committee will take the proposed changes, which include multiple options on some items, to party members in the coming months and develop a more firm set of recommendations, Pooles said.

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