New right-of-centre Manitoba political party hopes to compete for seats in 2023 election
Keystone Party, founded on libertarian principles, hopes to register before Christmas
A new right-of-centre political party hopes to compete for seats in the Manitoba legislature in the 2023 election by attracting voters disaffected with Progressive Conservative pandemic and fiscal policies.
The fledgling Keystone Party of Manitoba is gathering signatures in the hopes of a registering as a political party before Christmas, interim leader Kevin Friesen said.
"We're definitely a party for freedom," Friesen said in an interview last week from his home in the south-central Manitoba town of Manitou, where he works as an agricultural producer.
"We really think that there is a genius in every Manitoban and that they are really able to make their own decisions."
Friesen describes the Keystone Party as a "fiscally responsible grassroots party." He said he dislikes the terms populist or fiscally conservative and insists the new party has the potential to draw voters from many backgrounds.
On its website, the new party espouses libertarian ideals such as reducing the size of government and fiscally conservative policies such as a pledge to balance the provincial budget.
And while the party does not explicitly pledge to claw back pandemic mitigation measures — including restrictions on unvaccinated Manitobans — Friesen has made it clear he's not a fan.
"This government has promised to deliver, but it has only mandated. It has stopped businesses from paying their bills to the point of bankruptcy," he said in a video address posted to YouTube on Oct. 30, the day Heather Stefanson won the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party's leadership race.
"It has divided marriages to the point of divorce and broken relationships of every friend, neighbour and business partner to the point of tattle-taling and ultimately suicide."
Friesen, whose video included two portions of Ronald Reagan's Vietnam-era "freedom is a fragile thing" address, said he does not want the Keystone Party to be defined by its position on Manitoba's pandemic response.
He said the party was not formed in response to the Progressive Conservative government's pandemic policies, but rather the manner in which former premier Brian Pallister developed and communicated them.
"I would say that the leader was not leading. He was more of a dictator," Friesen said. "We wanted to start a party that that couldn't happen again."
The "we" refers to group of reeves, mayors and businesspeople Friesen declined to identify. Winkler Mayor Martin Harder has communicated with the group but said he does not speak for them.
The party requires 2,500 signatures in order to register with Elections Manitoba. Friesen said members of the party's steering committee are taking their time.
"We're kind of picking and choosing." he said, explaining the party wants to avoid comparisons with the People's Party of Canada, which has attracted some members with views far outside the political mainstream.
"What I see the PPC did is they they held what what the government would call illegal rallies, and so that really attracted those type of people," he said.
"I'm not saying that no one on our steering committee has been to a rally, but it's not been our mode of action, basically to go to rallies like that and and gain support that way."
Friesen said it would be easy to go to a rally and sign up 3,000 members, but that would make it harder to expand the party's base.
"We think it's important right now to go to perhaps some of the really influential businesses, for example. Those are the kind of people that we're getting on side," he said.
"I think that's going to pay dividends in the future, when we're going to grow our membership."
The Manitoba Progressive Conservatives declined to comment directly on the formation of a new party that could compete for conservative votes in two years.
"We are focused on our new vision and agenda to build a healthier, stronger, more inclusive province for all," Premier Stefanson's office said in a statement.
"We are committed to listening and engaging with Indigenous leaders, all levels of government, the business community and all Manitobans so we can emerge from this pandemic together."
Friesen said it's not just the Progressive Conservative Party that ought to be concerned about losing support.
"I think both the NDP party and the PC party are going to be afraid of this," he said.