First Female Premier Faces Uphill Battle

By: Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,  Brandon Sun
The Progressive Conservative leadership race yielded surprising results, said Brandon University political scientist Kelly Saunders,  given how close the final tallies were for each candidate.
Heather Stefanson received 8,405 votes, defeating rival Shelly Glover, who garnered 8,042 votes.
The Tuxedo MLA, a former cabinet minister and deputy premier, was selected to lead the PCs by party members in a mail-in vote.
As of Sunday night, Glover had not conceded the leadership race and may yet challenge the result.
“There  were a number of quite troubling allegations just about the fairness of  the process,” Saunders said. “Certainly, the closeness of the votes  might have lent some credence to some of those concerns.”
Saunders  said a close majority does lend credence to concerns regarding ballots  not being sent out to members in advance of the vote, ballots being  missing or ballots being received too late to mail back in time for  Saturday’s vote. She added she has also heard concerns regional voter  drop boxes scattered across the province did not exist or required  people to drive many kilometres to visit.
Given the seriousness of  these allegations and concerns, she said, it is understandable Glover  has not yet conceded the leadership race.
The controversy  surrounding the leadership race colours the naming of the province’s  first woman premier, she said, because the outcome needs to be seen as  legitimate in the eyes of party members and the eyes of Manitobans.
“This  is more than just the new leader of a party, obviously — this is a vote  for our new premier,” Saunders said. “In order for that outcome to be  seen as legitimate the process has to be seen as legitimate — if the  process is seen as questionable or dubious in some aspects, then there  is going to be some question marks hanging over the premier-elect  Stefanson’s head, and that is unfortunate because this is such a  historic moment.”
Having the first female premier is a cause for  celebration in terms of gender equity, equality and seeing more diverse  faces in politics, she said, making the occasion an important one for  the province. Unfortunately, these important milestones and markers will  likely be overshadowed by the questions of legitimacy.
Saunders  added Stefanson’s first days as premier will be further complicated  because she remains the leader of the same caucus and cabinet that  remained silent during former premier Brian Pallister’s decisions  regarding the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his “disturbing”  comments regarding Indigenous issues including residential schools and  Reconciliation.
“These are the same people that threw the support behind Stefanson in a very public way,” Saunders said.
She  is now leading a party that in the view of many Manitobans is still a  continuation of Pallister’s cabinet and caucus. Stefanson will need to  try to separate herself, the cabinet and caucus from his legacy — a  challenging task to overcome.
She added these necessities will be  further fuelled because of the ideological and urban-rural divide facing  the PCs, which has been exacerbated by the leadership race.
Glover  had significant support from those in the party who are right of centre  and/or rural and the divisions have been intensified by the closeness  of the race.
Stefanson will now need to bring the party on her side to support her leadership.
“She has a number of really key challenges ahead of her, and it’s not going to be an easy path forward,” Saunders said.
Social  scientists often talk about the “glass cliff” when they look at women  in leadership positions, whether it is in politics or other sectors. The  idea is centred on a political party, government or any organization  that is suffering in the polls or potentially recovering from a crisis  trying to shake things up by bringing in a woman to rebrand.
However,  that woman is often given a herculean task to rebuild a suffering  organization or is not provided with the resources or tools needed to  create systemic change.
“She’s almost set up to fail, and then  when she does she’s pushed over the edge of the cliff and everyone says,  ‘well, that’s what happens when you put a woman in charge — she’s  doomed to fail,’” Saunders said. “It really does cast a pall over other  women wanting to follow in those footsteps and really breaking through  that glass ceiling because they’re not given the same equal  opportunities to succeed when they’re in those positions as leadership.”
She  hopes Stefanson will be allowed to prove herself as a successful and  capable leader, but going into the role with the questions surrounding  her path to victory is a troubling way to begin a new premiership.
It  remains an exciting time for the province because there are two years  before the next election — a long stretch in political time.
The  PC Party is beginning to rebound, rising about six points in popular  support across the province based on polls, Saunders said, although they  are still significantly behind the NDP.
The party is in a good  position with 20,000 new members brought in as a result of the  leadership vote. Saunders said if they can hold onto these people in  terms of volunteers and fundraising, it puts the party in a better  position heading into the next election.
She noted as an urbanite  and woman leader Stefanson might be able to close the PC gap with urban  and woman voters over the next two years.
“There’s always a  honeymoon period when a new leader is elected,” Saunders said. “If  they’re able to see a bump in the polls as a result of a new shiny face  on the party and a different face on the party in the form of a woman  and they can hold to that or at least use that momentum to lead them  into the next election, the party is in a better position certainly more  than it was six months ago.”