The two women campaigning to become Manitoba’s next premier squared off Tuesday night, both promising to revive a Progressive Conservative government that is running low in opinion polls.
Shelly Glover, a former Conservative member of Parliament who has not been elected provincially, promised a “head-snapping change” to the party’s culture during an 80-minute debate before Tory faithful.
On a few occasions, she went directly after Heather Stefanson, a long-time legislature member and former health minister who has the backing of most Tory caucus members.
“When you took over as minister of health, Heather, Manitobans needed leadership. And you by your own admission stayed in the backrooms while I went directly to the front lines,” said Glover, who took on a job as a health care aide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And to be a leader ... you must be where the action is.”
Stefanson, for the most part, did not directly criticize Glover. She touted her own experience as a two-decade member of the legislature. She said she worked to reduce the number of children in care as minister of family services and oversaw the COVID-19 vaccine rollout as health minister.
Stefanson also said she is more equipped to revive Tory fortunes in time for the next election, scheduled for October 2023.
“We need a leader with a team and a plan, and we need a leader who is ready to start work immediately.”
The Progressive Conservatives will select a replacement for former premier Brian Pallister by mail-in ballot on Oct. 30.
Stefanson, widely regarded as the front-runner, was first out of the gate in the race. She has the backing of 29 of her 35 fellow caucus members as well as some high-profile retired Tories.
Glover has worked to sign up new members before Thursday’s deadline. Anyone who joins after that will not be eligible to cast a vote for the leader.
She has also tried to paint Stefanson as a member of the Tory old guard, who she says has stopped listening to Manitobans’ concerns.
Glover promised to reverse some of the government’s spending cuts, such as the closure of rural Manitoba Hydro offices, agricultural service centres, and a jail in Dauphin.
That last promise drew a response at the debate from Stefanson.
“With all due respect, Shelly, while you are focusing on building jails, we will focus on building the economy.”
Glover’s campaign has had a few hiccups.
When she launched her bid, she said she had the support of Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Dumas spoke positively of Glover but said the assembly was not endorsing any candidate.
An e-mail sent to Tory party members this week quoted former federal cabinet minister Peter MacKay as supporting Glover’s leadership bid.
MacKay posted on social media that he was not endorsing her.
“The release issued in my name was not authorized by me,” MacKay posted on Twitter.
“I wish both strong candidates who I have enormous respect 4 the very best.”
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