Heather Stefanson to move into Manitoba premier’s office after weekend leadership win

Heather Stefanson (left) has become Manitoba's first female Premier, and the 24th in the province's 151-year history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Heather Stefanson has a full agenda ahead as she prepares to move into the Manitoba premier’s office.

After a narrow victory over rival Shelly Glover on the weekend for the leadership of the governing Progressive Conservatives, Stefanson will soon be sworn in and become the province’s first-ever female premier.

Glover has said she may contest the result because many party members did not get ballots in the mail in time to cast their votes.

Click to play video: 'Newly-elected Manitoba PC leader says she’s honoured to make history, outlines goals as premier'
Newly-elected Manitoba PC leader says she’s honoured to make history, outlines goals as premier

Stefanson must assemble a cabinet and decide whether to reconvene the legislature as scheduled on Nov. 16.

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She says that’s a tight time frame to deliver a throne speech that sets out the government’s agenda, but it could be doable because of her years of experience in the legislature.

Stefanson must also decide when to call a byelection to fill former premier Brian Pallister’s seat, and was noncommittal Saturday when asked whether she would want Glover to run there.

“If Shelly wants to run, there will be a nomination and I think others may come forward too and I’m not sure,” Stefanson told reporters after her victory speech.

“That’s a democratic process and we’ll follow that within the party.”

Glover, a former member of Parliament who left Ottawa in 2015, does not have a seat in the legislature. She said Saturday she would discuss the idea of running in a byelection with her team.

Stefanson appeared more enthusiastic when asked whether Obby Khan, a business owner and former Winnipeg Blue Bomber, might seek the Tory nomination in Pallister’s old Fort Whyte riding.

Khan has not announced any plan to run in the byelection, but he raised eyebrows with public support of Stefanson’s leadership bid that included a testimonial video.

“He’s a great Manitoban and I wish him well if he decides to seek the nomination there,” she said.

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Stefanson, who has held a variety of cabinet positions, takes over the Tory helm at a time when the party has sunk in opinion polls and is two years away from the next election.

The government has come under fire for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. During Stefanson’s brief time as health minister, dozens of patients were flown to other provinces due to a shortage of intensive care beds.

She also supported a controversial plan to overhaul the education system and eliminate elected school boards. She promised to scrap the plan when she launched her leadership bid in August, and interim Tory leader Kelvin Goertzen did so in early October.

The Opposition New Democrats have already launched online advertisements that call Stefanson “a bad repeat” of Pallister.

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