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Heather Stefanson wins Manitoba PC leadership race, will become province's first female premier

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WINNIPEG -

Manitoba's governing Progressive Conservatives have chosen Heather Stefanson as their new leader and the province's next premier.

Stefanson, the province's former health minister, was running against former Member of Parliament Shelly Glover, and won by a margin of fewer than 400 votes.

"I'm ready to address the many challenges facing us," Stefanson said in her victory speech.

"We will face these challenges together."

Stefanson said the focus moving forward is addressing the health-care backlogs that Manitoba has experienced during the pandemic and also rebuilding the economy.

“Once we do that, we will have more money to spend on health care, education, social services, that has to be our priority moving forward.”

Stefanson will become Manitoba's first female premier once she is sworn in. She said she is ready to embrace that title and hopes her selection will encourage other women to get involved in politics.

“We had a number of young women working on our campaign, who were excited to be involved in this process and I want to ensure they continue to be excited and involved.”

Stefanson thanked Glover for running, noting she brought energy and enthusiasm to the leadership race.

She also thanked former premier Brian Pallister who helped the party secure back-to-back majority governments.

“And now it’s time to keep the momentum going toward a third majority government in 2023.”

The leadership race began in the summer after Pallister announced he was stepping down.

Following the announcement of Stefanson becoming the new leader, Glover said she was disappointed that she didn’t win the race, but noted Saturday is a day to celebrate because of how historic the event was.

“This has never happened before, it’s historic. And I do want to congratulate Heather’s team and Heather, and I look forward to seeing a PC party that does move us forward,” said Glover, noting Stefanson has broken through the glass ceiling.

The contest was recently marred by complaints that many party members did not receive mail-in ballots in time to vote, and Glover called for the vote count to be delayed.

Glover received 8,042 votes, while Stefanson received 8,405.

“I am very sad some members did not get their ballots,” said Glover, “If we are to negate members, I believe that is a mistake. That is why I said I wish we could postpone until we had all of our members’ ballots and I remain of that mind.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement congratulating Stefanson and said he is looking forward to working with her.

“Together, we will find solutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow, build a strong economic recovery that works for everyone, and move forward on the issues that matter most to Manitobans,” said Trudeau.

He also thanked Pallister for his work that he did while premier saying his leadership over the last year and a half helped keep Manitobans safe during the pandemic.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont also congratulated Stefanson on soon becoming the first female premier, but said there is no real change in the direction of the party with her win.

“Our health-care systems and our public finances are in a shambles, the PCs burned bridges with Indigenous people, and every single PC MLA was a cheerleader for Bill 64, which would have ruined our public school system,” Lamont said in a statement.

The Manitoba NDP issued a similar response with leader Wab Kinew saying Stefanson was Pallister’s right hand every step of the way.

“The PCs are desperate to change the channel from Brian Pallister but Manitobans won’t fall for it. Premier Heather Stefanson is just a bad repeat,” Wab Kinew said in a statement.

“No one believes Mr. Pallister’s failed Health Minister can fix the crisis in our health-care system…She was missing-in-action when Manitobans needed her most and she won’t stand up for Manitobans now.”

The next provincial election is slated for October 2023.

- With files from The Canadian Press.

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