After the Oct. 3 Manitoba election, there were some very happy people and some not so happy. In fact, a fair amount has been reported about how the Progressive Conservative Party, how it fared so badly and why.
To understand why the PCs lost the election and why there has been so much criticism of the PC leader, the party management and the campaign, one has to go back to at least 1983. In that era, the once very strong PC party lost to the NDP led by Howard Pawley. The PC Party led by Sterling Lyon had been defeated and a leadership race was set in place. In those days, the leadership was decided by a delegate convention and the candidate who got the most delegates from the 57 constituencies became the leader. Gary Filmon of Winnipeg won out over two rural candidates, Clayton Manness and Brian Ransom.
I can’t speak for earlier leadership races, but the party took a long time to solidify behind Filmon. Eventually, it did and he ended up serving a long time as premier.
When Filmon resigned, the ever elusive party elite, gathered behind Stu Murray of Winnipeg and Murray was acclaimed. He never became premier. I was at the convention where Murray was voted out by the delegates and the wheels came off of what was left of the PC bus. The PC elite decided that a young, bright lawyer named Hugh McFadyen should be the leader. He won by a lot of votes. He was opposed by Ron Schuler and (full disclosure here) by myself, Ken Waddell.
McFadyen led the party in two elections, both losses, where he only got about 20 seats, nine short of a majority. He resigned on election night.
The party toyed around with a leadership race for about a year but the only candidate who came forward was Brian Pallister. The PC elite didn’t like it, but Pallister had a lot of grassroots support, had experience as both an MLA and MP and he was acclaimed. He won two elections and then resigned after being deemed as unapproachable and autocratic.
The PC elite decided that long time MLA and cabinet minister, Heather Stefanson would make a good leader. Their plans were almost upended by former MP Shelly Glover, who only fell short by a few votes from upsetting the apple cart. Stefanson prevailed by a few votes and served as premier.
The PC Party’s problem is that the PC elite still rules the roost.
So, what’s the problem with that? The problem is that when the PC elite get their way, they almost always fail. The only leader that became premier in an election was Pallister and he certainly wasn’t wanted by the PC elite. They hated him really, because he was a strong leader. Too strong actually in the end.
The PC Party’s problem is that while they call themselves a grassroots party, they have let the grassroots shrivel and die. The PC elite makes sure of that by assuring that the party process doesn’t thrive.
Here’s how it’s supposed to work. There are supposed to be 57 constituency boards of about 10 people, a mix of men, women and youth. There is supposed to be a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. There are supposed to be regional chairs who sit on the provincial board. There is supposed to be a party president and executive. Many of those offices go unfilled. To say the local and provincial boards and HQ staffing have been weak to non-existent would be an understatement.
The PC party structure needs to be re-activated from the grassroots up. If the party structure had been stronger, maybe the last three leadership races would have been more robust and maybe the party structure could have avoided some of the bone-headed mistakes, especially those of the most recent election.
Ken Waddell, Publisher, Neepawa Banner & Press and myWestman.ca – The views expressed here are his own.