Politics in Manitoba

The province of Manitoba has a majority Progressive Conservative government, formed on 10 September 2019. The premier of the province is Heather Stefanson and the lieutenant-governor is Anita R. Neville. Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870 and its legislature met for the first time the following year.

The province of Manitoba has a majority Progressive Conservative government, formed on 10 September 2019. The premier of the province is Heather Stefanson and the lieutenant-governor is Anita R. Neville. Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870 and its legislature met for the first time the following year.

Provincial Government Structure

There are 57 seats in Manitoba’s provincial government. Each seat is held by a member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) elected by eligible voters in their electoral district. The boundaries of the province’s 57 electoral districts are set to include between 250 and 400 voters. General provincial elections are held every four years on the first Tuesday in October. Sometimes, should the party in power see it as advantageous, an election may be called before this date. When the party in power holds a minority of seats, elections may also occur before four years have passed and the government no longer has the confidence of the Assembly.

As with the other provinces, Manitoba uses a first-past-the-post electoral system, meaning the candidate with the most votes in each electoral district wins. Typically, the party with the most seats forms the government, and the leader of this party becomes premier. However, a party with fewer seats may also form a coalition with members of another party or parties in order to form the government.

Technically, as the Queen’s representative, the lieutenant-governor holds the highest provincial office, though in reality this role is largely symbolic. (See also Manitoba Premiers: Table; Manitoba Lieutenant-Governors: Table.)

The premier typically appoints members of the Cabinet from among the MLAs also belonging to the party in power. Cabinet members are referred to as ministers and oversee specific portfolios. Typical portfolios include finance, health and education.

First Government

On 15 March 1871, the legislature of Manitoba met for the first time. It consisted of an elected legislative assembly with members from 12 English and 12 French electoral districts, an appointed legislative council and an appointed executive council who advised the government head, Lieutenant-Governor Adams G. Archibald.

Since 1871, the province has moved from communal representation to representation by population and from non-partisan to party political government.

John Norquay

Late 1800s – Early 1900s

While Manitoba's system of responsible government matured during the 1870s, communal loyalties rather than party politics dominated public representation. Throughout the 1880s, however, a strong Liberal opposition to John Norquay’s non-partisan government developed under Thomas Greenway. After the election of 1888, Greenway's Liberals formed Manitoba's first declared partisan government. They were defeated in 1899 (on issues of extravagance and a weak railway policy) by an invigorated Conservative Party under Hugh John Macdonald. When Macdonald resigned in 1900, hoping to return to federal politics, R.P. Roblin became premier, a position he held until 1915, when a scandal over the contracting of the new legislative buildings brought down the government in its fifth term.

In 1920, against the incumbent Liberal government of T.C. Norris, the United Farmers of Manitoba first entered provincial politics and sent 12 members to the Legislative Assembly, heralding a new era of non-partisan politics. In the election of 1922, the UFM won a modest majority and formed the new government.

The farmers chose John Bracken as their leader, and he remained premier until 1943 despite the UFM withdrawing from politics in 1928. Bracken then formed a coalition party, the Liberal-Progressives, which won a majority in the assembly in 1932, but only gained a plurality in the 1936 election, surviving with Social Credit support. He continued as premier in 1940 leading a wartime government of Conservative, Liberal-Progressive, Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation and Social Credit members.

Second World War – Late 1980s

John Bracken became leader of the federal Conservatives in 1943 and was replaced by Stuart S. Garson. In 1945, the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation left the coalition government formed during the war; the Conservatives left it in 1950 and the Social Credit Party simply faded. From 1948, Premier Douglas Campbell led the coalition, although after 1950, it was predominantly a Liberal government.

From 1958, the Conservatives under Duff Roblin governed the province until Edward Schreyer’s New Democratic Party took over in 1969 with a bare majority. His government survived two terms; during its years in office, many social reforms were introduced and government activity in the private sector was expanded.

Between 1970 and 1990, there was a dramatic realignment of provincial politics, beginning with the virtual disappearance of the provincial Liberal Party and the rise to power of the New Democratic Party under Schreyer and Howard Pawley. In 1977, Sterling Lyon led the Conservative Party to victory on a platform of reducing the provincial debt and returning to free enterprise, but his government lasted only one term. In 1981, the NDP returned to power under Pawley. They were re-elected in 1985. The Lyon government, in fact, was the only one-term government in Manitoba's history to that time, as the political tradition of the province has been notable for its long-term stability, particularly during the era of the United Farmers of Manitoba and later coalition governments. Typical of the social democratic initiatives of the NDP was the introduction of a government-run automobile insurance plan and the 1987 plan to purchase Inter-City Gas Co. The government's attempt to increase bilingual services within the province aroused old passions, however, and was abandoned.

Late 1980s – Present

Howard Pawley's New Democratic Party was ousted in 1988 when Gary Filmon led the Conservatives to an upset minority victory. Filmon's government was precarious, and the Liberal opposition was extremely vocal in its opposition to the Meech Lake Accord (see also Meech Lake Accord: Document). Debate over the Accord dominated the provincial agenda and was finally killed by procedural tactics led by NDP Cree MLA Elijah Harper. Filmon went to the polls immediately following the death of the Accord in 1990 and eked out a slim majority victory. This majority enabled Filmon to finally dictate the legislative agenda, and he began concentrating his government's efforts at bringing the province's rising financial debt under control. His government's success in this endeavour won Filmon an increased majority in April 1995.

Beginning with the election of Gary Doer in 1999, the NDP dominated provincial politics until 2016. In 2009, Doer was nominated to serve as ambassador to the United States and selected one of his MLAs, Greg Selinger, to replace him. In the 2011 election, Selinger returned with a majority government.

Brian Pallister

Selinger’s leadership was challenged in the fall of 2014 when five cabinet members left their posts, sparking an NDP leadership race in the winter of 2015. While Selinger survived the leadership race, he was ousted as premier about a year later. In April 2016, Manitobans elected Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister to a majority government, ending 17 years of NDP rule. The win was historic: the PCs took 40 of the province’s 57 seats, one of the largest majorities in provincial history. Pallister campaigned on promises of austerity. He vowed to reverse an increase to the provincial sales tax, as well as eliminate a budget deficit.

In the summer of 2019, Pallister called a general election about a year earlier than required by law. According to Pallister, his government had met most of its promises and needed a new mandate from voters. On 10 September 2019, the PCs again won a majority government, this time taking 36 seats.

On 1 September 2021, Pallister resigned as premier. He resigned his seat in the legislature on 4 October. His departure came amid various criticisms, including his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its strained relations with Manitoba’s Indigenous communities. On 30 October, the Progressive Conservative Party held a leadership race. Heather Stefanson, Pallister’s former deputy premier, beat Shelly Glover, a former Cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, by 363 votes. Glover refused to concede and launched a legal challenge. Stefanson, however, was sworn in as premier on 2 November. She is Manitoba’s first female premier.