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It has never been uncommon for provinces to try and blame the federal government for things which they should be doing, but lately, there seems to be a bit of a harder edge to this kind of behaviour as we see particular breakdowns happening across the country. The Council of the Federation Meeting that happened in Winnipeg last week was happening in the backdrop of a particular incident where the provincial government, and premier Heather Stefanson in particular, have decided not to search a landfill outside of the city for the remains of (at least) two Indigenous women, citing health and safety concerns, while also simultaneously daring the federal government not to intervene. This particular kind of daring of the federal government seems to be happening with increasing frequency, without sufficient pushback from the federal government.

The case of the landfill search is particularly emblematic of this approach by premiers, where they know that there is a problem that is squarely within their jurisdiction, but they have no desire to actually do the work to solve it. That the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Mark Miller, has responded to Stefanson at all is fairly unusual, but called Stefanson’s decision not to proceed “heartless,” and pointed out that he can’t just nationalize the landfill in order to do the work, and that it would be logistically impossible without provincial involvement. Stefanson responded by insisting that it was Miller who was trying to politicize the issue and that he was being “irresponsible,” when she politicized it all along by both refusing the search the landfill in spite of the warnings that not doing so would do more harm to the Indigenous communities involved, and in suggesting that the federal government be the ones to do the heavy lifting in her absence.

This is just one incident among many. We did see the premiers essentially engineer a crisis in the healthcare system in order to force the federal government’s hand in giving them more money without any strings attached, while simultaneously engaging in a campaign of outright lies to the general public trying to accuse the federal government of ensuring there won’t be enough doctors in the country, and of course, this was all swallowed whole by credulous legacy media outlets who are allergic to pointing out whose jurisdiction anything belongs to, preferring to instead frame everything as “squabbling” rather than blame-shifting and dereliction of responsibility. But on this attempt, the premiers both overplayed their hands, and allowed their normalcy bias get the best of them, believing that the crisis they engineered wouldn’t be that bad. It was, the system essentially collapsed, and the federal government was able to shove a deal down their collective throats, with some very big strings attached to those dollars.

This is also playing out around the bail reform issue, and the problem of asylum seekers sleeping on the streets of Toronto because they can’t find shelter space, and again, in both cases, the federal government is being blamed when these are both failures of the provinces and to as well as the municipalities. The bail issue is not one where the Criminal Code is a problem, even if the Conservatives and many premiers have successfully managed a disinformation campaign that blamed the former Bill C-75 for the supposed “revolving door” of bail. It was never true—that bill merely codified a number of Supreme Court of Canada decisions around bail (which is a Charter right explicitly tied to the presumption of innocence) and actually made it harder to get bail for offences related to domestic violence. The real problem has always been provinces underfunding their court systems (to say nothing of the social services that would have prevented much of the criminality in the first place), and police not enforcing bail conditions for repeat offenders. But do provinces want to accept that responsibility? Of course not, so they have managed to blame the federal government, and again, credulous legacy media has gone along with it because federal justice minister David Lametti isn’t forceful in pointing out where the provinces are failing.

The asylum seeker issue is another one where the blame is being laid entirely at the feet of the federal government, even though their responsibility lies around refugees who have received status (again, immigration minister Sean Fraser not being very forceful on this fact), though they have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to provinces and municipalities to help them out with these asylum seekers. It does lay bare more problems at the provincial and municipal level, where the province has under-invested in services, and most especially in supportive housing, while the municipality has allowed NIMBYism to keep them from building the kinds of affordable housing units that would be keeping people out of the shelter system to begin with. This is only going to get worse as immigration and refugee resettlement targets increase, while municipalities drag their feet on ensuring that the right kind of housing is being built, and provinces are largely refusing to use their constitutional powers to force the hands of those municipalities to drop restrictive zoning or mandating proper densification, again, content to simply blame the federal government for not ensuring there is proper housing for immigrants (not their responsibility) or going too fast (if they waited for housing to catch up, it would never happen).

Of course, while the provinces are much keener to blame the federal government for their own failings than ever, and far more willing to use outright disinformation to make it stick, the federal government needs to be a lot more serious in pushing back, and in giving the provinces and municipalities the kick in the ass that they need to take their responsibilities seriously. Unfortunately, they refuse to do so because they don’t want to seem like the mean order of government, or like they’re blaming the provinces (rather than just pointing out constitutional realities), and most especially, the messaging politics that they adhere to must always present a positive story, so they mutter some lines about “working together,” and nothing gets done (because the provinces won’t do their jobs), and people like those asylum seekers are caught in the middle. But if federalism is going to work, we need each level of government to actually do their jobs, and not just blame the federal government and get away with doing nothing.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

How did a historic leadership race evolve into a historical leadership challenge? That’s what some Manitobans many be wondering in the midst of one of the most unusual series of events in Canadian political history.

Let’s go back to the beginning.

Manitoba PC Premier Brian Pallister announced his resignation on Aug. 29. His name is well known in Canadian politics. He ran for the federal PC leadership in 1998, sat as a Canadian Alliance MP, and served as a Conservative minister for then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He had led the Manitoba PCs since 2012, and won two majority governments in 2016 and 2019, respectively.

Although Pallister improved Manitoba’s economic fortunes in a relatively short period of time, he was badly rocked by controversies related to COVID-19, Indigenous issues and eliminating elected school boards. His personal popularity dropped, and his government fell out of favour in popular opinion polls.

The political clock was ticking, and he sensed it was time to exit the scene.

“I think it’s time to move on for the good of my family and I think that Manitobans deserve the chance to know who is going to be their premier,” he said at Brandon University on Aug. 30. “I’ve seen past leaders trying to hang on for too long sometimes and I don’t want to be one of those.”

The Premier also said, “The last thing I want to see is division with the PC party in Manitoba that would hurt them in their recovery and ability to focus on governing.”

This line would turn out to be more prophetic than he ever could have imagined.

Pallister stepped down on Sept. 1, and was replaced by Kelvin Goertzen on an interim basis. The race to replace him turned into a historic event, since it would culminate in the province’s first female premier.

The two leadership candidates were well qualified to take on this important role.

First was Heather Stefanson. She had cut her teeth as an assistant to former Agriculture Minister Charles Mayer, who served former PC Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell in that role. Stefanson would win a seat as a Manitoba MLA for the riding of Tuxedo in 2000, which she still holds. She held three ministerial roles – Justice and Attorney General, Families and Health and Seniors Care – and was deputy premier from 2016-2021 under Pallister.

Second was Shelly Glover. A former police officer in Manitoba of Metis heritage, she had sat as Conservative MP for Saint Boniface from 2008-2015. This made her the first policewoman to ever hold a seat in the House of Commons. She would serve as Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages, and later as Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, under Harper. She didn’t run again in 2015, and re-entered the political arena after declaring her candidacy for the Oct. 30 Manitoba PC leadership race.

Stefanson roared ahead to an early lead, picking up endorsements from two-thirds of the PC caucus, several current and former MPs and MLAs, and emphasizing her provincial political experience. Glover played the long game by appealing directly to grassroots members and emphasizing her political stature on the federal scene.

It was a close result. Stefanson won 8,405 votes (51.1 percent), while Glover ended up with 8,042 votes (48.9 percent). The margin of victory was only 363 votes.

Glover refused to concede. She and her team alleged the close result and 1,200 missing mail-in ballots had marred the leadership race. A note was sent to Manitoba’s Lieutenant Governor Janice Filmon, wife of former PC Premier Gary Filmon, on Nov. 1 to delay Stefanson’s swearing-in ceremony due to “substantial irregularities.”

Moreover, the Glover campaign announced they would seek an Order of the Court of Queen’s Bench to declare this leadership race invalid, and start a fresh one. That’s something you rarely see or hear in Canadian politics.

The Manitoba PCs initially said the courts didn’t have jurisdiction in this matter. Stefanson was quickly sworn in on Nov. 2 to replace Goertzen, becoming the first female premier in Manitoba’s 151-year history. Pressure from grassroots members and the general public continued to escalate, however. On Nov. 15, the party agreed to let the courts hear this matter due to the “nature of the allegations” and the “regrettable, divisive tone to the dispute.” A decision will arrive at a later date.

If the courts rule in favour of Stefanson, will she be able to put this matter behind her? Hopefully, but there’s no guarantee of this.

If the courts rule in favour of Glover, will she be able to win a second leadership race? Possibly, but there’s no guarantee of this.

Should the Manitoba PCs have delayed the historical swearing-in of the province’s first female Premier until this historic legal challenge was resolved? Yes, since it would have guaranteed that it went through free from controversy.

The political divisions that Pallister had hoped his party would avoid have emerged. If it tears the Manitoba PCs apart, that would be the worst historical development of them all.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.