Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson is apologizing for election ads promoting her decision not to search a landfill north of Winnipeg for the remains of First Nations women, saying she felt “a little uncomfortable” with the combative tone of his party’s failed re-election. Campaign.
During a conversation he described as his last interview in the premier’s office before ceding that space to NDP Leader Wab Kinew on Wednesday, Stefanson said his party’s billboards and newspaper ads “Stand strong” harm Manitobans,” but still insists they were intended to clarify the PC’s position on the search for two women who police believe are victims of a suspected serial killer.
“There were some unintended consequences where we hurt some people. You know, I apologize for that because I didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” the outgoing prime minister said Friday. The ads appeared during the final 10 days of Manitoba’s election campaign, which culminated in the PC’s loss of power to the NDP on October 3.
“I am the leader of the party. I take responsibility for the campaign,” Stefanson said.
“We were just putting out a message about a certain issue and how difficult it was to make that decision, and those are the difficult decisions that, you know, the new prime minister-designate will also have to make.”
PC’s dump ads were condemned during the campaign by the families and supporters of missing women Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris. Winnipeg police believe the women are victims of a suspected serial killer and that their remains lie beneath the surface of the Prairie Green landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser, north of Winnipeg.
The ads were also denounced after the election by PC President Brent Pooles, defeated PC incumbent candidate Rochelle Squires, and former Conservative MP Candice Bergen, who served as PC campaign co-chair.
Bergen said she had advised against landfill ads, but was ignored by other members of the campaign team. Stefanson suggested that she had no knowledge of this dissent.
“I was not at all the meetings,” said the outgoing prime minister. “I was very busy. They kept me very busy doing various things.”
SEE | Heather Stefanson reflects on the tone of the PC campaign:
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said Stefanson’s comments don’t rise to the level of an over-the-top apology.
“She didn’t say, ‘You know, that was a big mistake. If I had known that, I would have vetoed it when it was proposed,'” Thomas said Sunday in an interview.
“Saying he wasn’t at every meeting kind of gives him a way out for not addressing that issue, but I mean, he made those comments a lot.”
Families deserve an apology: Chief
Kyra Wilson, chief of Long Plain First Nation, the home community of both Harris and Myran, said if Stefanson is sincere, she should apologize directly to the families of the missing women.
“Families who have loved ones in a landfill deserve an apology,” Wilson said in an interview Sunday. “The campaign itself was very damaging to many people and it’s unfortunate that that’s the approach they took.”
Stefanson said she will not discuss what happened within the PC campaign, which both she and campaign manager Marni Larkin have described as a success because the party did better than polls suggested a year before the election.
“We will have our internal discussions about what occurred,” Stefanson said. “I’m certainly not going to have those discussions in the media.”
After the campaign, Bergen also said the PCs were wrong to try to make Stefanson look angry during the election campaign, and said voters saw past the characterization.
Stefanson said he had to adopt that tone during the campaign.
“There were times where it was a little awkward. I’m not a combative person and I think that’s what you’re talking about and I think sometimes we had to take a different tone. We were fighting for Manitobans and we’re fighting for Manitobans,” he claimed.
“There’s no question, but I think I take a conciliatory approach to things. I try to work with others and sometimes I would say, you know, it didn’t come across that way in the campaign.”
Political change questioned by some
After the campaign, Squires and Pooles also expressed concern about the Progressive Conservative Party moving even further to the right during the campaign.
Squires, who has since left the PC, said the 2023 campaign did not resemble the party he represented for seven and a half years in Winnipeg’s Riel constituency. Pooles said he would prefer the party remain fiscally conservative but socially progressive and not take a sharp turn to the right.
Stefanson, who intends to remain as party leader until his successor is chosen in a year to 18 months, declined to offer an opinion on where the PCs should position themselves on the political spectrum.
“I think the party needs to have those discussions at a convention,” he said. “I don’t think it’s my place to say. I think it’s party affiliation.”
Stefanson said his party must first focus on completing its financial filings for the Manitoba election and setting the rules for its next leadership race.
“When a new leader is elected, I look forward to having those conversations with party members, to see what this looks like in the future,” he said.
The effects of the campaign in the legislature
Thomas, the political studies professor, said Stefanson must now face the consequences of his campaign when he returns to the legislative chamber as Manitoba opposition leader and interim PC leader.
“In addition to being an outgoing duck, she also has to answer for a campaign that even loyalists within her party found inappropriate in some respects,” he said.
“Given that she accepts that the responsibility falls on her, then she should expect it to fall on her if she tries to attack the motives and tactics of the new government. So that is a responsibility that she and her party will have to face.” with.”
Stefanson dismissed the suggestion that he could serve as a distraction if he remained as party leader.
“I think we need stability in our party right now, and I think it’s best for me to stay in this position right now to get a new leader,” he said.
“This is not about me. It never has been. This is about our party making sure we are a strong party moving forward. And now I feel a little bit of pressure on me.
“I feel like I can be myself and be who I am, and I’m looking forward to that, and part of that is because I’ve been in the opposition before. I know how this works and we’re going to get it done.” hold the government accountable.