Heather Stefanson appeals to firefighters to bolster Progressive Conservative leadership bid

With a week before the membership-sales cutoff in Manitoba's Progressive Conservative party leadership race, candidate Heather Stefanson has appealed to firefighters to join the party and bolster her support.

Tuxedo MLA pledges to add more cancers to list of presumed occupational illnesses

Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Heather Stefanson recorded a three-minute video address to firefighters, telling them she has their back. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

With a week before the membership-sales cutoff in Manitoba's Progressive Conservative party leadership race, candidate Heather Stefanson has appealed to firefighters to join the party and bolster her support.

In a three-minute video address, the Tuxedo MLA said if she is selected as Manitoba's new premier on Oct. 30, she'll expand the list of cancers that entitle firefighters to work-related compensation.

"Thank you for your dedication to our province and for the sacrifices you make every day in the line of duty," Stefanson says in a video in which she pledges to add thyroid, pancreatic, ovarian and cervical cancers to the list of presumed occupational diseases.

"If I have the honour to serve as your next premier, my door will always be open and I will always have your back."

The appeal comes in the final days of a scramble by Stefanson and competitor Shelly Glover to sign up as many new PC members as possible. Both may continue to sell memberships until Sept. 30.

Party members will select their new leader — and Manitoba's next premier — through mail-in ballots that will be counted on Oct. 30.

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Firefighters are a pool of hundreds of potential new members. Their largest union in Manitoba, the United Firefighters of Winnipeg, has been active during elections and played a pivotal role in ensuring former premier Greg Selinger survived an NDP leadership review in 2015.

At the time, then-opposition leader Brian Pallister accused Selinger of making a backroom deal with the firefighters' union in exchange for its support.

Stefanson spokesperson Bonnie Staples-Lyon said Stefanson's pledge is about women's health and the candidate has no concerns about being beholden to any constituency.

Staples-Lyon said Stefanson also reached out recently to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, the Manitoba Hotel Association, the Manitoba Business Council, the Winnipeg Police Association and the Manitoba Wildlife Federation.

UFFW president Alex Forrest said Winnipeg firefighters have long had a good relationship with Stefanson but stopped just shy of endorsing her leadership bid.

"We wish her well in her efforts to become the first female premier in Manitoba's history," Forrest said via text.

"We would encourage all our members to know the strong history of support Heather has given firefighters and the knowledge that she will support us in the future and we hope our members will support her."

Glover's campaign declined to comment on Stefanson's play for firefighter support, stating only she too is signing up more members.

Stefanson has also made an overture to the Manitoba Nurses Union. Stefanson signed a pledge to do whatever she can to improve the relationship between the province and the union and to recruit more nurses, the MNU said in a statement.

Glover did not sign the pledge, the MNU said.

Neither campaign has revealed how many members they've signed up. The party has promised to reveal their respective tallies after the Sept. 30 deadline passes.

Until then, the party is offering refunds to anyone who signed up as a member in support of leadership hopefuls Shannon Martin and Ken Lee, who did not make it onto the ballot.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.