Heather Stefanson steps down as Progressive Conservative leader

Heather Stefanson has stepped down as the Progressive Conservative leader after her party lost the Manitoba provincial election.

Stefanson made the announcement shortly after conceding the election to the Manitoba NDP’s Wab Kinew.

“It has been the honour of my life serving the people of Manitoba with the many roles that I have held over the years,” Stefanson said.

“And I thank all Manitobans from the bottom of my heart for giving me the privilege to serve as the first woman premier in this beautiful province of ours.”

Stefanson was poised to hold her seat in her riding of Tuxedo.

She congratulated Kinew in a speech to party members, saying the PC team will hold the government’s feet to the fire — without her at the helm.

“I hope that your win tonight inspires a future generation of Indigenous youth to get involved in our democratic process, not just here in Manitoba, but across the country. Congratulations for that,” she said.

The Progressive Conservatives entered the election campaign with 35 seats in the Manitoba legislature. But the New Democrats earned the victory by flipping seats previously held by the PCs in the key battleground of Winnipeg.

“Tonight I stand before you feeling honoured to have served as your premier,” said Stefanson. “Together we have been able to accomplish so much in just under two years. We have faced unprecedented challenges including a global pandemic, the unjust war in Ukraine and challenging economic times.

“Yet we were able to move Manitoba forwards. Se implemented the largest personal income tax cuts in Manitoba history. We made our province more competitive. We made significant advancements and economic reconciliation with Indigenous communities. We brought the budget back to balance while making historic investments in health care and education and in social services.”

Cabinet ministers Squires, Klein defeated 

A pair of Tory incumbent cabinet ministers were defeated.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires, who was first elected in 2016 and was re-elected in 2019, lost her seat in Riel to Mike Moyes of the NDP.

Kevin Klein, minister of environment and climate, was defeated in Kirkfield Park by Logan Oxenham of the NDP.

As expected, the PCs won their seats in rural areas of the province.

Kelvin Goertzen, outgoing minister of justice and attorney general, was elected in Steinbach.

Agriculture Minister Derek Johnson won his seat in Interlake-Gimli, while Education and Early Childhood Learning Minister Wayne Ewasko was elected in Lac du Bonnet.

Closer to Winnipeg, Obby Khan, outgoing minister of sport, culture and heritage, was re-elected in Fort Whyte.

The 53-year-old Stefanson and the PCs ran on public safety, housing, and the refusal to search a Winnipeg landfill for two missing Indigenous women.

The Tories bought newspaper advertisements and large billboards opposing the Prairie Green landfill search for Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, citing safety concerns over asbestos and other toxic materials that pose a cancer risk. Stefanson defended the ads, which were met with criticism.

Life of politics 

Stefanson, born and raised in Winnipeg, got a political science degree at the University of Western Ontario, before getting a job as a special assistant in the Office of the Prime Minister under Brian Mulroney before returning to Manitoba in 1993 as an assistant to then-agriculture minister Charlie Mayer.

She would later run in a byelection in 2000, replacing former premier Gary Filmon as the member in Tuxedo, and has won her seat in every election since.

In 2021, Stefanson made a bid to become the PC party leader and beat out former member of Parliament Shelly Glover to become the first female premier of Manitoba.

The outgoing Manitoba premier expressed her gratitude to her family.

“Thank you for always standing with me,” she said. “Thank you for being there with me. We know that there has been some great times in the past 23 years and there’s been some challenging times, no doubt, but every step of the way you have been with me and I could not have done it without you. Thank you so much.”

—With files from The Canadian Press

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