Former finance minister loses federal nomination bid


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Too much baggage and not enough of organization likely led to the political downfall of a Manitoba cabinet minister who quit his post to seek the federal Conservative nomination in Portage—Lisgar, experts say.

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Too much baggage and not enough of organization likely led to the political downfall of a Manitoba cabinet minister who quit his post to seek the federal Conservative nomination in Portage—Lisgar, experts say.

Cameron Friesen lost the nomination April 29 to Branden Leslie, who will now carry the federal party banner in the yet-to-be-called byelection.

Portage—Lisgar is a Tory stronghold. Its most recent MP, Candice Bergen, held the seat from 2008 until resigning in February. Bergen is now co-chair of the provincial Progressive Conservative party’s 2023 election campaign.

“Our campaign message was about experience, results and deep roots in the riding,” Friesen said in a social media post after losing the nomination Saturday.

The longtime MLA for Morden-Winkler and then-finance minister officially resigned from the Stefanson government Feb. 3, weeks before the provincial budget was unveiled.

Leslie is Bergen’s former campaign manager and Grain Growers of Canada manager of policy and government relations. He has billed himself as the “right Conservative” for the socially conservative rural riding.

Former MP Lawrence Toet (who held the Elmwood—Transcona seat for one term 2011-15) also sought the nomination, as did Winkler resident Don Cruickshank.

“Although Cameron Friesen was very prominent in Morden-Winkler, without a doubt I would say simply that Branden out-organized him and out-hustled the others,” Conservative Sen. Don Plett said Monday.

Leslie’s family is prominent in the riding, and the long-time party worker and supporter had a lot of grassroots support in Portage—Lisgar, which includes Friesen’s provincial constituency, said Plett.

The senator said he suspects many who supported Leslie also supported Pierre Poilievre’s successful run for the federal leadership. “I’m sure Branden was instrumental in the selling of those memberships back when Pierre ran.”

Meantime, Friesen’s “baggage” from his time in Premier Heather Stefanson’s cabinet likely didn’t help, said University of Manitoba political studies Prof. Christopher Adams.

“I’m sure there’s some people in that area who are angry about how the provincial health department was working during the COVID period and the mandates and things like that. And I’m sure there are people unhappy with the health-care system itself,” Adams said Monday.

“I would say that that he came in with some baggage like any cabinet minister does and he served in a government that had some popularity issues over the past few years and that might have affected his ability to win the nomination.”

Neither Leslie nor Friesen could be reached for comment Monday.

Cameron Friesen (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Plett said Friesen threw his hat in the ring knowing he could lose the federal nod after giving up a powerful cabinet post in the provincial government.

“It was always considered to be a close fight,” said the Manitoba senator, who spoke with Friesen during his run for the nomination but not since his loss.

“I think Cameron made a very clear decision that he had done a good job, and I think he had decided that his time in provincial politics was over,” Plett said.

“Provincially, there’s a lot of changeover in provincial caucus for the next election, for sure, and Cameron was one of many who felt he had done his time. He had accomplished a number of things and decided it was time to move on.”

The long-time Tory said Friesen will have “a lot of different options” open to him in the future.

Adams echoed that stance.

“I’m sure he’ll have some offers from the private sector or elsewhere in the immediate future. And I’m sure that down the road, if the federal Conservatives come into power, he’ll have some options — on some Crown agencies or boards where they will see him as a positive force to have.”

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.


Updated on Monday, May 1, 2023 7:12 PM CDT: Adds comments, details, background.

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