Shelly Glover, the self-declared premier Manitoba doesn’t need

Jason Markusoff: To believe her claims about the provincial PC leadership vote, you have to believe a grand conspiracy took place in plain sight of its chief victim

As surely as I live in Manitoba, Shelly Glover is my premier.

Actually, I live in Alberta, though my dad was born and raised a Winnipeg north-ender. And while we’re being precise, Shelley Glover is only premier in a darkly fantastical world in which the ugliest of political conspiracies hold true.

Last Saturday, the governing Manitoba Progressive Conservatives awarded their party leadership to former deputy premier Heather Stefanson over Glover, 8,405 votes to 8,042. The party and provincial establishment raced on the following Tuesday to swear Stefanson in as Manitoba’s new (and actual) premier. The same day, the contest’s runner-up filed a lawsuit and affidavits aiming to overturn the results, declaring to CBC’s Bartley Kives: “I am the premier, not her. I am sorry, but Manitobans chose me.”

Glover, a former federal cabinet minister from the Harper-era, fortunately ceded to reality in subsequent interviews, acknowledging that somebody else was, in fact, sworn in as premier. But she’ll insist to anybody who will listen that there’s an impostor in charge, and that she’s the duly elected Manitoba PC leader and has rights to become the first female premier in provincial history.

There’s a long history of sour grapes over irregularities and chicanery in party leadership contests. In some cases, candidates openly dispute results—most recently, Christine Elliott  in the Ontario PC leadership in 2018, and Maxime Bernier in the federal Conservative race in 2017.  Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative leadership campaign remains under RCMP investigation. We’re in less familiar territory, however, with Glover’s refusal to concede, and her dogged pursuit of legal action against the party whose crown she sought. It will continue as a court drama, or subplot to Stefanson’s actual task of leading Manitoba, at least until the next hearing in two weeks, or longer if a judge determines the judicial system has jurisdiction to settle an intraparty election dispute.

Her lawyer, Dave Hill, told CTV that he’d successfully challenged an eastern Manitoba school trustee contest, so why not take on a different government level?  However, what the judge found there was reportedly accidental voting irregularities. Glover, a retired police officer, is alleging something much more deliberate—that PCs officials not only tilted the scales in favour of her establishment rival, but that they somehow dumped in several hundred extra votes at the last minute to convert a Glover win to a Stefanson win. Her evidence includes one affidavit from her scrutineer, a fellow ex-police officer; accounts unfurled in TV interviews of a spreadsheet showing a lower tally of total votes cast, and of Stefanson aides appearing disheartened during the counting; and some chatter on social media. This follows Glover’s grumbles days before the race ended about some Tory members not getting ballots.

The enormity of what she alleges, atop the wisps of evidence provided thus far, casts her version of events into doubt. To think what she is arguing is true, you’d have to believe that poohbahs in the party that’s ruled Manitoba for 16 of the last 33 years schemed to rig the selection of an instant premier, brazenly overruling the will of their members. And that they did so ham-handedly, in a way that was readily visible to the side that was having the election stolen from it. And that multiple top Tory apparatchiks agreed to this scheme. Heck, it all may go as high up as the premier’s office.

If this supposed grand plot were true, and the Lieutenant-Governor did indeed anoint the wrong person, swaths of government and party officials would be implicated as corrupt, their political careers ruined. Glover would have to jettison everybody and rebuild most of her government side—a group already trying to recover from the troubled legacy of Brian Pallister, one of the most disliked premiers in Canada. She’d have to do all this while trying to erase the Manitoba NDP’s healthy lead in polls. With a provincial election two years away, she’d have the pitiable task of restoring public trust after Manitobans just watched her party risk it all, and lose it all, in a bid to undermine democracy.

Does it sound farfetched? Wild-eyed? It’s not something we need in a country whose neighbour is one year removed from an election the loser continues to insist was rigged despite all evidence to the contrary, claiming masses of officials conspired to rob him of victory. But apparently, it is what a former federal cabinet minister in Canada passionately believes. If she somehow wins, she utterly shreds her own party’s credibility and suitability to participate in the democratic process. If she loses, she’s done the same to herself.

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