Manitoba Tories suddenly postpone annual fundraising dinner with little explanation

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's governing Progressive Conservatives have suddenly called off their annual fall dinner that was scheduled for Friday of next week

The $200-a-plate event normally attracts several hundred people and is one of the party's biggest fundraising events every year.

So far, the party has only offered a one-sentence explanation for the move.

"We have decided to postpone our upcoming dinner on Nov. 18 due to scheduling conflicts with party members and community events," party spokesperson Michele Halverson wrote in an email Tuesday.

Halverson did not respond to a request for an interview or answer further questions such as whether ticket sales were low and whether a new date will be set.

One political analyst said the sudden cancellation is unusual.

"I don't usually think of the PC Party of Manitoba as particularly disorganized. They seem pretty disciplined, a pretty professional organization," said Royce Koop, who teaches political studies at the University of Manitoba.

"It's surprising, especially for something where there's a real tradition to it."

The event was scheduled for the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg and was billed on the Tory website as an "enchanted forest gala" this year. Visitors to the web page on the event Tuesday were greeted with a message: "Oops. That page can't be found."

The cancellation comes as the Tories continue to lag behind the Opposition NDP in opinion polls with an election scheduled for next October. The NDP has also been closing the long-standing fundraising gap between the parties.

Last year, the NDP took in $1.1 million in contributions and fundraising. The Tories took in $1.5 million, some of which was due to a membership surge for the leadership race that saw Heather Stefanson succeed former premier Brian Pallister.

Unless the dinner is rescheduled before the end of the year, the Tories may forego money. Donations to political parties in Manitoba are limited to $5,000 per donor each calendar year and the fall dinner is a chance for the party to encourage attendees to max out their contributions.

The Tories also hold a spring fundraising event every year. At last June's event, Stefanson spoke to Tory faithful and sat down for an onstage interview where she answered questions from her daughter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press