When the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba elects its new leader next month, a candidate with Westman connections could become the province’s next premier.
McPhillips MLA Shannon Martin officially launched his campaign on Monday at an event in Oak Bluff, just outside of Winnipeg.
With his official declaration of candidacy, Martin joins former Conservative MP and police officer Shelly Glover and Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson in the race to replace former premier Brian Pallister.
The party’s former chief financial officer, Ken Lee, has also expressed interest in running, but as of Saturday, his campaign Facebook page said it was still looking for pre-existing members of the party to write nomination letters on his behalf.
Speaking to the Sun by phone on Monday after his campaign launch, Martin said he grew up in Shilo, lived in Sprucewoods and went to École secondaire Neelin High School before studying at Brandon University.
He represented the constituency of Morris from 2014, when he won a byelection, until 2019, when he switched to the riding of McPhillips after electoral boundaries were changed.
While the choice of a construction company’s headquarters for his campaign launch was largely due to finding somewhere with enough space as the pandemic continues, he said it was also an apt background due to part of his platform.
"I thought it provided an appropriate backdrop to a significant part of my vision for the province of Manitoba, and that’s how do we ensure that those companies that have been affected by supply chain issues, restrictions, any number of issues they’ve never dealt with over the last 18 months, how do we make sure they’re successful going forward? I know that construction companies were particularly hard hit during COVID, and there continue to be challenges."
He believes the Tourism Rebate Incentive Program run by the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, which reimburses Manitobans for hotel stays and provides discounted access to Star Attractions, has been a big success and would like to extend it for two years.
As Pallister came under fire for comments over colonialism early this summer, Martin could be seen taking potshots at his own party on social media for its handling of the situation.
"The system is designed to have obedience, for lack of a better word, or allegiance," he said about parliamentary democracy. "I was frustrated, and that was one avenue I used to express my frustration, but now I’ve channelled that and so much more into this leadership run."
Reconciliation, he said in the interview, is one of the key items in his platform.
"I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone," he said. "I’m confident that there is a willingness on the part of Indigenous leadership, and I guarantee that there is a willingness on my part to ensure that reconciliation is thoughtful, consultative and meaningful."
Another key difference between him and his predecessor is safe consumption sites. Martin said that whereas Pallister was uninterested in setting them up, he believes they are an important tool in tackling the drug crisis in the province.
"Just because you don’t like a solution doesn’t mean it’s not a valid solution," he said. "We can’t stick our heads in the sand and say there isn’t an addiction crisis in our communities. Why would we ignore a component of a larger addiction reduction strategy?"
Also under the health and well-being umbrella, he’d like to implement greater mental health supports, especially for children who are returning to the classroom after a stressful 18 months during the pandemic.
"We’ve got a mental-health tsunami facing us in the province of Manitoba," Martin said. "We need to do a heck of a lot more when it comes to the development and the availability of mental-health services, specifically within our schools. Part of that, too, in terms of my mental-health platform is my willingness to be far more pragmatic and less ideologically bound than my predecessor."
On climate change, he said he noticed the devastating effects of changing weather when he was first elected in 2014 and saw heavy rains during the summer cause the Assiniboine River to surge past its banks.
"When there’s a flood situation, our first go-to is ‘you know what, we need to get the water out of here as fast as we can,’" he said. "Now that we’re entering the drought cycle, we see the folly of that thought pattern in that we should be doing more medium- and long-term thinking, especially when it comes to water retention, whether that’s dugouts, water retention ponds, there’s a whole host of research on it."
In regards to the carbon tax, Martin firmly believes Manitoba should stop fighting the measure imposed by the federal government.
"We’re done fighting the feds over this," he said. "Manitobans and the government and the climate, we have better things to do than fight and waste time and energy fighting in court battles. The federal government is a duly-elected level of government and they have every right to bring in legislation and policies they feel are important."
He does, however, advocate for the removal of the education farming tax, saying it doesn’t make sense to tax the province’s food production.
Like Stefanson, Martin also believed that Bill 64 deserved to be killed, saying that there wasn’t much support for it outside of his caucus. He believes that the K-12 commission’s report on education was useful, but that his party ignored too many of its recommendations when implementing changes, especially in regards to removing school divisions and elected trustees.
At one point on social media, he said he believed there was no longer a place for Red Tories — conservatives who trend toward being more socially progressive while maintaining fiscally conservative views — in his party. As he has launched his campaign, he said he has had people tell him that they didn’t think they had a home in the party any more until he threw his hat in the ring.
Though he didn’t want to compare himself to his competition, saying he’s focused on his own campaign, he did say that he believes he has prepared the most fulsome platform among the pack at this point.
Martin didn’t offer specifics, but said he and his team are confident they’ll meet the Wednesday deadline for submitting his entry fee and signing up 1,000 new or renewing party memberships in order to qualify for the ballot.
» Twitter: @ColinSlark