Manitoba

Tory MLA overcomes anxiety to win unusual nomination battle for his Transcona riding

Progressive Conservative MLA Blair Yakimoski says the nomination for his riding was contested, in part, because he didn't meet the target of selling a certain number of party memberships.

'I have anxiety issues that I struggle with,' Blair Yakimoski says after low membership totals force contest

Transcona MLA Blair Yakimoski says he's had help keeping his anxiety at bay. (Ian Froese/CBC)

A Progressive Conservative MLA says he had to fend off a challenger to retain his party's nomination in part because of his anxiety.

"I have anxiety issues that I struggle with. I struggle with the ask," Transcona MLA Blair Yakimoski said after winning the nomination Wednesday night in front of 150 party members at the Canad Inns in Transcona.

He defeated Ramona Coey, a longtime party volunteer, for the right to carry the Tory banner in the next election.

Premier Brian Pallister said in a scrum with reporters last month that "performance" was the reason Yakimoski faced a challenge.

"We have criteria for performance by all our caucus members and we have an open party, with [people interested] in running for us, and that is the case in that particular riding," he said.

Yakimoski said part of it was that he had to sell a certain number of party memberships, but he didn't meet the target because while he has no issue speaking with voters, he has difficulty asking people for support.

'Out of my comfort zone'

As an example of his anxiety, he said summoning up the courage to ask out the "pretty girl in high school" was hard, but he finally did it.

"I ended up marrying the pretty girl," Yakimoski said.

"That's kind of the way this happens. I got pushed out of my comfort zone and I had to go to the door and I had to ask them the question at the right time — and a lot of people supported me."

The former grocery store owner credited his wife, friends and some of his colleagues, from Greg Nesbitt, who helped him organize a fundraiser last year, to Bob Lagasse, who gave Yakimoski a motivational mix tape to put him in the right mindset.

Blair Yakimoski, right, comes in for a hug with fellow Progressive Conservative MLA Bob Lagasse after winning the party nomination for Transcona at the Canad Inns on Regent Avenue. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Yakimoski said he has realized people want to support him — and they're willing to buy a PC membership to do it. 

"A part of my brain wakes up in the middle of the night and says, 'They don't want to help you,'" he said. "Get over it, they probably really do."

In his brief victory speech, Yakimoski didn't speak about his anxiety, but said many of the people in the room knew why his nomination battle was challenging.

"I'm a customer service guy from the grocery business," he said. "There's a part of this [politics] game that is customer service and there's a part of this game that is sales, and I have to get better at that."

Coey, Yakimoski's challenger, is a former Brandon school trustee and the current executive director of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Manitoba.

She has a long history with the Progressive Conservative Party, from door-knocking and making phone calls as a teenager to serving as a constituency president and election volunteer co-ordinator in recent years.

Coey told CBC News earlier in the day she was honoured to be approached by the party to run in Transcona.

The mother of three lives outside the riding in Lorette.

MLAs normally unchallenged

Political scientists say contested nominations when an incumbent MLA wants to return happen, but not often.

"Normally, the governing party grants its MLAs a pass from having to face a nomination contest," Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, wrote in an email.

In a recent example of a contested nomination, Flin Flon MLA Clarence Pettersen was ousted as the NDP candidate for the 2016 election by Tom Lindsey.

Royce Koop, an associate professor in political science at the University of Manitoba, said there's a growing tendency to protect incumbents from challengers, but open nomination periods are a victory for democracy.

"They are a way to keep incumbent candidates accountable. They are a way for local members and local residents to have a say," he said.

"It's a way of ensuring that just because you win the nomination and you get elected once, it doesn't mean you're necessarily going to be there forever."

The next provincial election is expected this fall.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is covering the Manitoba provincial election for CBC Manitoba. He previously has reported on provincial politics and breaking news in Winnipeg, Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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