Heather Stefanson plans to serve as interim leader of the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives until her party holds a leadership race, which several senior Conservatives expect to happen sometime in 2024.
Manitoba’s outgoing premier announced on election night that she intends to resign from her position as PC leader and help the party elect a successor.
“I look forward to working with the party to ensure a smooth process is put in place to replace me as its leader,” Stefanson said Tuesday, after conceding to premier-designate Wab Kinew and the New Democratic Party.
Stefanson also said Tuesday that he will continue to serve as MLA for Tuxedo, an electoral district he held with a narrow 263-vote victory over the NDP candidate. according to unofficial Manitoba Election results.
She will serve as interim party leader until there is a race to replace her, said Cam Eason, Stefanson’s spokesman during her campaign.
Several senior politicians said the race should not be held for at least six months, and possibly for another year, but should still be held soon enough to allow the party to rebuild before the next election.
Take time for a ‘reflective’ career: Goertzen
Steinbach PC MLA Kelvin Goertzen, a 20-year incumbent who served as interim premier for two months in 2021, said the Progressive Conservatives should not rush to select a new leader.
“We are probably four years away from another election and clearly you don’t want to wait four years, but I don’t think this should be done in four weeks either,” Goertzen said Wednesday in an interview.
“There needs to be some time to talk about what we want that process to be. How can we engage members? How can we have the discussion… about the last election and what we want the party to be like in the future?” ” said Goertzen, re-elected on Tuesday.
“For someone who’s been there a long time, I think my only suggestion would be to not rush into anything, because you have time to do it thoughtfully.”
Goertzen said the PCs now have the opportunity to let potential candidates figure out what party members, and Manitobans in general, want to see from the next Conservative leader.
“There should be time for them to be able to talk more broadly with Manitobans, to have that discussion about the things they think we did right and, frankly, the things we did wrong,” he said.
That’s something the Progressive Conservatives didn’t have time to do after Brian Pallister resigned in 2021, after which Stefanson ran for the party’s leadership against former Conservative MP Shelly Glover in what amounted to an abbreviated race.
Goertzen said no one should expect that kind of dynamic in the next race.
Next leader will need time to rebuild: Bergen
Candice Bergen, a former Conservative MP who served as co-chair of the Manitoba PC’s 2023 campaign, said the party also needs to be patient with its next leader.
“Whoever is chosen as the new leader of the PC party will probably need more than one election,” said Bergen, whose former federal party has gone through three leadership races since Justin Trudeau’s Liberals took power in 2015.
Bergen said Manitoba voters will want to give Kinew and the NDP a chance and probably a second term in power.
“I’m being very realistic. They will probably get at least their full term and will probably be a minority in the next election,” Bergen said.
“That’s a realistic expectation, so whoever becomes the new leader needs to be able to accept that, and the people around them need to give them that opportunity.”
Bergen said he is not ruling out the possibility of running for Manitoba premier.
Goertzen said he is not interested.
“I think it’s time for a new generation of progressive conservatives to really take control of the party in different ways,” he said.
“I’m very encouraged that we have, you know, so many young people who were elected [Tuesday]” he said, referring to the likes of Kathleen Cook in Roblin, Konrad Narth in La Vérendrye and Lauren Stone in Midland.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re running for leadership, but I do think it’s time for a different generation of progressive conservatives to guide the ship forward.”
Goertzen also said Progressive Conservatives should praise Kinew for becoming the first First Nations premier of a Canadian province.
“What’s good for Manitoba is good for all of us and we obviously wish him the best in the future,” he said.
“It’s a historic election that I think many in the Indigenous community, and many beyond the Indigenous community, will be proud of and encouraged by.”