Pallister vows to play no role in Manitoba PC leadership contest

Premier Brian Pallister says he will play no role in selecting his successor as leader of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party, a decision he expects will happen within weeks.

Speaking for the first time since Aug. 10, when he announced he will step down as party leader and as premier, Pallister said the party’s executive council is meeting Monday evening and he expects it will decide a leadership contest will take place this fall.

“I’m working on the assumption that the executive council will make a decision to have a leadership vote at some point in the next few weeks,” Pallister said following a health-care funding announcement at Brandon Regional Health Centre.

Pallister said he, his staff and his family will play no role in choosing his successor. He said meddling in that decision could damage his party.

“Once I made the decision that I was stepping down, I can’t reach up from beyond and control that process,” he said.

“I want to be really clear on this, because all of you who have followed politics know the harm that can come as a consequence of interference or meddling in a process that should be neutral and independent.”

Pallister said he remains in charge of the government and will not prorogue the legislature while he is still premier.

The legislative agenda will be up to his successor, he said.

That includes the future of Bill 64, which calls for the restructuring of Manitoba’s education system and appears destined to be killed.

Several Progressive Conservative MLAs have spoken out against the legislation, and two dozen of them — including Education Minister Cliff Cullen — have endorsed the leadership bid by Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson, who pledged last week to kill the bill.

Pallister said he still supports Bill 64, which he described as an ambitious bill with many components.

There are other ways to improve the education system in addition to this bill, he said.

“It’s not something that was drawn up on the back of a napkin. It’s the result of several years of intensive consultation and work by a great number of Manitobans,” he said.

“And so out of respect for their work, I would think it makes sense for a further discussion on the possibilities there.”

Pallister did not give a specific date for his departure, saying that will be up to the party’s executive council. He said he provided the council with a message for the meeting slated for Monday evening.

The outgoing premier appeared to be in a upbeat mood on Monday. He spoke to reporters from Brandon and Winnipeg for 17 minutes following the health-care announcement and made a number of jokes.

He was asked whether his decision to leave politics has taken a weight off his shoulders.

“It was an awfully difficult decision to get into politics in the first place,” he said, referring to his initial choice to seek office as a PC MLA in the 1990s.

Running for federal office, helping unite rival federal conservative parties and returning to provincial politics also were difficult decisions, he said.

“So this is perhaps the most difficult decision of all.”

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