Manitoba Tories eye new rules for leadership races, following 2021 controversy

By The Canadian Press

Manitoba Progressive Conservatives are considering changes to the way they choose a party leader, following complaints of missing ballots and a lawsuit after the last contest.

An internal report, obtained by The Canadian Press, suggests the party allow for electronic voting instead of requiring mail-in ballots, although the final decision would be up to a leadership committee established for each race.

The last race, which saw Heather Stefanson narrowly defeat Shelly Glover in the fall of 2021, saw many party members complain they did not receive ballots in time to mail them back. The issue was exacerbated by the fact thousands of people signed up as new members weeks before the vote.

“There were examples of new members from both of the campaigns during the 2021 leadership contest that did not receive their ballots in time to vote. This is not acceptable,” the report states. It was prepared by Lawrence Toet, a former member of Parliament, and Grant Stefanson, a lawyer who is also a brother-in-law of Heather Stefanson.

Glover launched a court challenge of the results and alleged there were voting irregularities that cost her the win. A judge rejected her arguments. The party paid legal fees to defend the vote results.

Another leadership race is expected next year. Stefanson announced after the Tories lost the Oct. 3 election she would step down as leader. She said this week she might leave early in the new year, once the party finalizes the new leadership rules.

The report’s recommendations are scheduled to be reviewed first by the party’s executive next month, and then go to a final vote by party delegates in mid-January.

Kelvin Goertzen, a longtime Tory legislature member, said electronic voting could improve things, but the party would have to be sure the technology works.

“In theory, I think online voting or other things that make voting more accessible to people is important, but it’ll be up (to) party officials to show that they can actually deliver that in a way that is secure and that’s efficient,” Goertzen said Friday.

The report also recommends moving away from the Tories’ strict one-member-one-vote system. It suggests adopting a points system for each constituency that would cap the influence of constituencies with large membership numbers.

“It requires candidates who want to be the leader of the party to campaign in every part of Manitoba. you can’t just isolate your campaign to one region which is flooded with memberships,” Goertzen said.

A political analyst said it’s important for the Tories to have a backup plan if glitches crop up with electronic voting.

“There’s no guarantee that everything will run absolutely smoothly,” Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said.

The Tories have to fix the problems that beset that last leadership race, he added.

“They suffered some loss of credibility and damage to their image by that chaotic event.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2023

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