Right in the centre - Keystone Party trying to feed hunger for change


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

Manitoba is about to experience a fifth political party. Only three parties, the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP and the Liberals have seats in the Manitoba legislature. The Green Party doesn’t have a seat and as far as I can remember, it never has. There are a number of other parties that can, at best be called fringe parties but party number five, the Keystone Party, may be a force to be reckoned with starting this year. 

Last week, the Keystone Party held a meeting last week in Gladstone, one of several with a few more planned around the province. Keystone leader Kevin Friesen, a Manitou farmer, outlined their platform. Some of the key points focused on fundamental rights and personal freedoms. As well, they trumpeted a need for limitations to government size and spending, the importance for equal distribution of health care and education opportunities and a tougher stance on crime.

Most Manitobans would see these as desirable goals although the NDP and Liberal parties tend to get a bit carried away on spending a lot of borrowed money and appear to be softer on crime than the PCs. The question needs to be asked, why a new party and why now?

New parties almost always emerge out of discontent with the status quo. The seeds of discontent in Manitoba have had a fairly large garden to grow in. The perceived need for a new party is largely sprouting in the garden known as  the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba.

To understand why that is happening it’s necessary to go back to the 1980s and 90s. The political success of PC Premier Gary Filmon ruled the 90s decade. Filmon won three consecutive elections and only lost the fourth because of a dumb plan by a handful of back room operatives to set up a vote splitting scheme. When Filmon lost, the party did some introspection, largely in the back rooms and without much attention to the grassroots and especially the rural grassroots. A nice man named Stu Murray became leader. While he had a lot of Liberal connections, the party bosses felt that Murray could do the job and lead the party back to power. He didn’t and he was knifed in the back at a revolt at a party convention. I was at that convention and saw it all happen. At least I saw the more public part.

So the people who knifed Stu Murray plotted to find an even nicer, kinder, gentle person to lead the party. The chosen one, again picked by the party elites, was Hugh McFadyen. He lead the party to two defeats in 2007 and 2011 respectively and resigned.

So, the hunt was on again but only one man stepped up, Brian Pallister. Pallister made no pretence of being anything but conservative. Lo and behold, he won two elections by a large margin. Admittedly, Pallister’s victories were held against a back drop of a tired and floundering NDP party. A series of events and characteristics lead to Pallister resigning. He did a lot of good things, not the least of which was assembling and enabling a very good group of MLAs. They all have their faults for sure, but I would say that, for the most part, the Pallister group was very good. But along came Covid-19, a bungled federal approach to the pandemic forced upon the provinces and a slow but sure wearing down of Pallister’s patience. He gradually wore out and lost the confidence of his supporters.

Pallister leaving created a vacuum and once again, the party elites seized matters into their own hands, didn’t consult the members very well and orchestrated the hurried election of Heather Stefanson. That plan was almost overturned by a grassroots movement headed by former MP Shelly Glover, a plan that fell only a few votes short.

The party’s meandering decades long search for leadership only had electoral success with strong conservatives, namely Filmon and Pallister. Many feel that Stefanson’s leadership is throwback to the days of leaders without the characteristics of Filmon and Pallister. That in itself provides fertile ground for new party seeds. Add to that the fact that it seems no amount of money or pandering to what seem like unrealistic demands from various unions, people like possible Keystone Party supporters believe a new approach is needed. Played out against a backdrop of a federal Liberal party and leader dropping in popularity, public opinion is leaning towards change. Whether the Keystone Party can capture that longing for change remains to be seen.