Manitoba: party leadership result challenged in court; new premier sworn in

Manitoba had a party leadership contest last week, where the governing Progressive Conservatives voted to elect a new leader, to replace outgoing Premier Brian Pallister. Since the PCs have a majority in the House, the new leader automatically becomes Premier.

Two candidates, Heather Stefanson and Shelly Glover, contested the leadership race, which was organised by the party. The vote was announced a week ago, with Stefanson taking 8,405 votes, Glover taking 8,042; a difference of 363 votes.

The Lt Gov has already sworn Stefanson in as the next premier.

But, Glover has announced a court challenge in the Manitoba Queen’s Bench. She says that the initial vote tally she received from the party had a different number of total votes cast, and that she was leading until the end, when there were more votes for Stefanson. There are also allegations that men took boxes of ballots out of the counting area, that Glover’s scrutineers were not allowed to watch, and that not all party members received their mail-in ballots.

It’s not at all clear if the Court has jurisdiction to entertain the application, since party leadership races are considered private matters for the party membership to determine, and are not regulated by the province.

Story actually made the New York Times for some reason (may be paywalled). I guess election challenges are now always news.

On the one hand, I certainly support the need for clean elections. On the other hand, the allegations sound awfully similar to what we’ve been hearing down south, which makes me wonder …

Stay tuned, I guess.

Yes, there’s no reason it has to be Republican V Democrat or other opposing parties. Once the spanner thrown in someone else’s works has been shown to be effective it will be taken up with gusto for internal political feuding precisely because the stakes are so low.

Well, in this case the stakes aren’t particularly low - it’s who becomes Premier of Manitoba.

But on the other hand, I expect the courts will slap this down hard if it turns out to be a Trump-style accusation with no actual supporting evidence. It would be nice to have an unequivocal judgement on record that Canada doesn’t tolerate that kind of crap.

Oddly enough, I haven’t heard about this on CBC news.

I first saw it in the NYT, of all places, then went looking for it. It seems to be a local Manitoba story.

The interesting question is if the courts will even consider the merits of the case, or pass on the grounds that they don’t have jurisdiction over a dispute in a political party, which is a private organization.

If there were problems with the vote, I’m sure the people involved could make a case that it’s a violation of a contract, or that, being a political party, the public still has a legitimate interest in how they conduct their affairs. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be happy with someone becoming the premier of a province, or maybe even the Prime Minister, after blatant shenanigans in the party selection process.

The Supreme Court rejected that contract-based argument in a decision last spring involving a membership dispute in a church. Although that arose in a religious setting, the Court used the general language of « voluntary association », which suggests the decision was meant to apply generally, not just to religious organisations:

I think the second paragraph would cover this:

Making an analogy to “Purely theological issues”, you couldn’t sue the party for suddenly embracing a platform plank that contradicts their previous position, but when it comes to purely mechanical things like “how to count votes and determine a winner”, that would most likely fall under “a legal right is at issue”, “which can ground jurisdiction include private rights in property, contract, tort or unjust enrichment and statutory causes of action”.

Stealing an election to become not just the leader of a party, but the premier of a province, would have to be considered an “unjust enrichment”, if for no other reason, the premier usually makes more money than other members of the legislature.

Plus the part I mentioned earlier: the general public has far more real interest in the workings of a party that forms the government, than they would in how a church is run. I can always quit the church if I don’t like what they’re doing. It’s somewhat more difficult to quit a province, and even harder to quit the country.

Well, in that case, it wasn’t a purely theological issue; it was an allegation that the church had improperly kicked five people out, violating their contractual rights as members. The SCC disagreed and said that mere membership wasn’t enough to create contractual rights. Similarly, “unjust enrichment” is a specific area of the law of restitution, relating to claims for repayment of money; I think it would be hard to fit a leadership election into that category.

With respect to public interest, there are two points of interest. First, unless you are a member of the party, which is a private group, the SCC analysis suggests you don’t have an interest. Membership in a party is defined by the party’s own rules, and just being a member of the public doesn’t make you a member with a contractual interest, if any can be found.

Second, aside from some regulation of campaign finance for party leadership races, the federal government and the provinces generally take a “hands-off” approach to the internal affairs of a political party. Should the courts intervene when the legislatures have not enacted any such regulation?

Overall, this case illustrates the major difference between political party regulation in Canada and the States. In Canada, the parties are treated as private political associations, and the governments do not regulate their internal processes and elections. In the States, the state governments have taken over control of the party nomination processes, through the primary system.

Remember that in our parliamentary system, the premier (or prime minister) is simply the person who has the confidence of parliament. If you can produce a majority vote of the sitting members on demand, then you’re the premier (or prime minister). It’s not a directly elected position, and from a constitutional perspective it doesn’t really matter how you came to have that confidence. Technically you don’t even have to have a seat. When the people of Manitoba elected the members of their legislative assembly, they did so with the understanding that those MLAs would support the chosen leader of their party, and that the party is free to pick its leader in whatever fashion it wants to.

If the people of Manitoba are unhappy with the way in which the Progressive Conservatives have chosen their new leader, their recourse is to petition their representatives to reject that choice, and, failing that, to vote in a new batch of representatives when that opportunity next arises. They don’t really have any say in how that choice is made excepting those that are actual members of the party.

It seems to me the only recourse Glover should have in this controversy is to petition the party executive to review the proceedings. Actually, I would presume she’s already done this and been turned down. I don’t see why the courts should get involved in who gets to be the leader of a private club, even if that private club is the majority party in the Legislature.

Right, the next question is whether Glover has much support in caucus, enough to challenge Premier Stefanson’s leadership. I’d be surprised if the caucus were to split, because that would potentially trigger a confidence motion and an election.

QB Judge said in initial stage that he’s inclined to the view that he can consider the issue, but is reserving judgment until after full briefs and argument, which is set for November 19 from now.

Like Hari, I’m surprised this story doesn’t seem to have made it in the media feeds outside of Manitoba (and that failing paper on the east coast of the US which picked it up. :wink: )

PC Party has agreed that the QB has jurisdiction and wants the matter heard before Christmas, to get the issue settled. Mind you, it’s a principle of Canadian court jurisdiction that the parties can’t give the court jurisdiction it doesn’t have, so the issue is still lurking.

Premier Stefanson has applied to intervene in the case.

I heard about the leadership race and that it was tight but not the weirdness now. There seems to be more of this now - Ontario PC leadership race was odd, the Greens and their foot shooting actions, the Alberta UCP/Wildrose contingent, and the kerfuffle with the Conservative Senator and Erin O’Toole.

Interesting that the QB judge want to look at it - I thought as it’s an internal organizational matter they would have to exhaust internal approaches or at least flag criminal like activity.

How does one get the right to be one of the 16,000+ party members qualified to cast a ballot?

Serious charges and damaging to the party in almost any event, regardless of how it’s ultimately decided. I would think that PC supporters/members value fair elections above their candidate “winning,” unlike one of our parties down here in the states.

Apply for membership and pay the membership fee, and you get to vote in leadership elections. There’s usually a cut-off point, so that there’s not suddenly “Insta-Tories” or “Insta-Grits” signing up at the last minute (used to happen, but I think most parties have now put a cut-off on, so the candidates have a good idea of who the membership are in a general sense).

Yup, memberships are not currently available; there was a cut-off at some point prior to the balloting:

Party fees aren’t usually very high; maybe $20 to $50 per year, I think.

Can’t find the membership fee for the Manitoba PCs, but the Manitoba NDP and Liberals both just charge $10 per year, with encouragements to provide additional donations: