By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister left the door open Tuesday to retiring before his successor is chosen while the list of potential new leaders shrunk.
Pallister was repeatedly asked in a news conference whether he would commit to staying on until a leadership vote Oct. 30. The date was set Monday night by the Progressive Conservative party executive.
He declined to commit.
“I’ll continue to do the best I can … I’ll just give it all I’ve got as long as I can, and when I decide to leave, I’ll let you know,” Pallister said.
“It’s not an easy decision.”
Pallister announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election and asked the party to start planning a leadership vote. The party has set the voting date, a deadline of Sept. 15 for candidates who want to join the race and a $25,000 entry fee.
The only person who has declared an intention to run is former health minister Heather Stefanson, who stepped down from her cabinet portfolio to initiate her leadership bid.
Two high-profile Tories who had said they were considering a run — Finance Minister Scott Fielding and Families Minister Rochelle Squires — said Tuesday they had decided to bow out.
“After much discussion with my family … I really came to the decision that it’s not the time for me to make such a commitment,” said Squires, who added that she has not yet decided whether to back another candidate.
Fielding said he will support Stefanson, who already has the backing of most Tory caucus members.
“I do think that she’s the right person at the right time to lead the province,” Fielding said.
Two other people who have said they were considering a leadership run — Winnipeg city councillor Scott Gillingham and former member of Parliament Shelly Glover — have yet to announce a decision.
If Pallister leaves before the party leadership vote, an interim leader can be chosen to take over the premier’s role.
The timing of the leadership transfer has thrown into question the planned fall sitting of the legislature.
Five bills criticized by the Opposition New Democrats, including a major education overhaul, are to be debated and voted on in a sitting scheduled to start Oct. 6.
Stefanson has promised to kill the education bill, which proposes to eliminate elected school boards and centralize education decision-making.
Pallister has said he will leave the legislative agenda to his successor. The NDP on Tuesday urged the government to reconvene the legislature and withdraw all five bills.
“It allows (the Tories) to have a clean slate, to start with a new leader,” NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine said.