Manitoba seems to have a surplus of premiers at the moment. On Tuesday, Heather Stefanson was sworn in as the province’s 24th premier.
Around about the same time, however, Shelly Glover gave a different take: “I am the premier, not her,” she told the broadcaster. “I am sorry, but Manitobans chose me.” That day, lawyers for Ms. Glover filed court documents they hope will indeed make that the case.
Neither politician, of course, was picked by the population of Manitoba through a general election. Rather, they were rivals in the election for who would lead the Progressive Conservative Party and govern the province. Open only to paid party members, a tiny slice of the population, that vote was prompted by Brian Pallister’s resignation as party leader and premier.
The continued dispute over the election’s results has again highlighted that the systems for selecting leaders of Canadian political parties generally don’t meet the high standards set by the independent agencies that run general federal and provincial votes.
In her court filing, Ms. Glover, a former Winnipeg police officer and federal cabinet minister, contends that she initially thought she had won the party’s vote. In a sworn statement, she said that the party presented her with a spreadsheet early on Oct. 30 showing that 16,045 ballots had been cast. That afternoon, the party’s president told her that she had received 8,042 of the votes.
“Instantaneously, given the number of votes I had received, I believed I had won the election,” she said in the statement.
Not so, the party told her.
Ms. Stefanson, who has spent most of her working life in politics, had won 8,405 making her the leader and premier. But, Ms. Glover’s filing noted, the two candidates’ vote counts combined with the spoiled and disputed ballots totaled 16,546 ballots — 501 more than the party said had been cast at the beginning of the day.
Another affidavit sworn by one of her campaign workers claims that there were irregularities in the ballot counting process.
Ms. Glover is now asking the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba to declare the vote invalid and order the party to start over.
In a statement to Manitoba news outlets, the party said that the election process did not favor either candidate and was overseen by independent auditors and that the ballots were protected by a security firm.
Mary Agnes Welch, a pollster with Probe Research in Winnipeg, told me that it was unclear whether the court had the authority to overturn the party’s decision. Nor, she added, is it obvious if Lt. Gov. Janice Filmon, Queen Elizabeth’s representative in the province, can remove Ms. Stefanson from office after swearing her into the premier’s post.
“It does kind of raise the question of what is the appeal mechanism for these kinds of issues because they do seem to pop up pretty regularly in Canada,” she said. “You wonder if a court challenge like this is a little bit of pique on Shelly Glover’s part.”
The internal dispute also highlights, she said, the divisions within the province’s Conservative Party. Ms. Glover, who is fully vaccinated, rejectedand questioned the need for proof of vaccination to enter public places like restaurants.
Ms. Stefanson, who was health minister, favors such measures. Although her record as health minister was not always exemplary. Last spring, the coronavirus wasthan in any other province or state in Canada, the United States or Mexico.
“It’s another example of the difficulties that the Tories have in creating a cohesive political party,” she said. “Right now in Manitoba, there is a significant chunk of pretty hard right conservatives who are feeling quite disenfranchised by their party.”
In an email, Alex Marland, a professor of political science at Memorial University of Newfoundland, told me that while political parties are subject to laws governing fund-raising and spending they remain “private entities” and can do pretty much anything they want when it comes to electing their leaders.
He said that could lead to measures that were less than democratic, like the party rejecting potential candidates (something that) or the tweaking of rules by a party’s executive or an outgoing leader to swing the outcome.
“There is something to be said about whether an election agency could be engaged to manage the voting process in party leadership contests,” he said.
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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