Off to the races: Manitoba health minister first to announce Tory leadership bid

·2 min read

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's former health minister is the first to throw her hat in the ring to lead the province's Progressive Conservative Party.

Heather Stefanson, who is 51, says she submitted her resignation from her cabinet position yesterday and intends to run for the leadership.

Premier Brian Pallister announced last week he would not be leading the Tories in the next election, which is scheduled for 2023.

He has not said how long he will stay on as premier or as a member of the legislature, and dates for a leadership contest have not been announced.

Experts have said there are no present front-runners but Stefanson, as well as Families Minister Rochelle Squires and Conservative member of Parliament Candice Bergen, have been touted as possible candidates.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding has also said he is seriously considering a run for the job.

Stefanson has been the legislature member for the south Winnipeg riding of Tuxedo since 2000. Previously, she served as the minister of justice and families.

She was also deputy premier before she took over the health file earlier this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives and livelihoods of every Manitoban, and I believe that this is a time to listen, to heal and to bring Manitobans together,” Stefanson said Wednesday.

The Opposition New Democrats called for any new Tory leader to require all members of caucus to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It follows a directive from Ontario's Progressive Conservative government this week that all of its members be vaccinated or face ejection from caucus.

"Manitobans expect their elected officials to lead by example," said NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine.

The PC party's executive council has said it will be meeting to determine leadership contest rules. Its constitution states the next leader is to be chosen by all party members on a one-member, one-vote basis.

Pallister ran unopposed for leader in 2012 and guided the Tories to the largest majority government in a century four years later.

He had been hinting about retirement for more than a year.

His popularity dropped sharply as Manitoba dealt with the pandemic and pressure for his exit increased after he came under fire for comments he made about Canadian history.

Pallister later apologized for saying that people who came to Canada before and after it became a country did not come to destroy but to build.

Pallister's legacy also involves controversial legislation, including a plan to reform the education system, which is facing public backlash. Stefanson committed to getting rid of the bill.

"Bill 64 is done,” Stefanson said.

“Instead, a Progressive Conservative government under my leadership will listen to parents and make sure we have an education system that prepares our children to succeed in everything they do.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2021.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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