Manitoba Progressive Conservatives kick off leadership race leading up to April vote

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives say they will know who their next party leader will be by the end of next April.

The Opposition party officially kicked off its leadership race and laid out its timeline at a news conference outside the party’s Kennedy Street headquarters in Winnipeg on Thursday.

Nomination forms will be available for potential candidates as of Friday, and the PCs will begin accepting them starting next Tuesday. 

Potential candidates have until Oct. 15 to register and submit their paperwork, said Brad Zander, chair of the party’s leadership election committee, at the press conference. The application packages will then be reviewed by the seven-person committee.

An all-candidates leadership forum will be held in Winnipeg on Oct. 30, and the new leader will be selected at a convention on April 26, 2025.

Manitoba residents who have a PC membership by Feb. 28 will be able to cast a ballot, said Zander, with a April 28 deadline for drop-off and mail-in ballots.

Learning after Tuxedo loss: interim leader

Lac du Bonnet MLA Wayne Ewasko has been serving as the party’s interim leader since former premier Heather Stefanson stepped down from the role in January.

She announced her intention to step down as leader last October, after the PCs were defeated by the Manitoba NDP in the provincial election, and resigned as an MLA earlier this year.

Ewasko had previously not ruled out running in the leadership race, but on Thursday, he said he would not be entering the race due to “family reasons.”

He said, though, the party is learning and moving forward after losing Stefanson’s longtime Tuxedo seat to the NDP’s Carla Compton in last week’s byelection

Stefanson became party leader in 2021, following the resignation of then premier Brian Pallister. The results of that leadership contest were challenged in court by her rival, Shelly Glover.

In a 2023 review of the Stefanson-Glover contest, PC members Grant Stefanson and Lawrence Toet concluded the 2021 leadership selection suffered from numerous issues, including insufficient resources to keep tabs on new members and make sure they all received ballots. The review also said the race’s time frame was too short.

Earlier this year, the PC Party approved new leadership rules that include capping the influence of constituencies with large membership numbers.

No online voting

Zander said Thursday that next year’s PC membership sales cutoff date of Feb. 28, and voting deadline of April 18, “felt like a comfortable time frame.”

Should the party see an influx of new members, the PCs will make sure they have enough staff and volunteers to manage it, Zander said.

Online voting, though, won’t be an option in this leadership race, he said. 

Zander pointed to the party’s finances and new weighted leadership selection system as reasons for not launching online voting.

“With each different option you provide in terms of voting, it increases costs,” Zander said.

“At a time when everybody’s … getting used to a new system, there was some concerns about introducing a new voting method for the first time.”