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PCs make opposition to landfill search a central facet of campaign as Manitoba election day nears

September 25, 2023

Heather Stefanson pledges to ‘stand firm’ against search for missing and presumed murdered Indigenous women

An aerial shot shows a vast, snow-covered field.
An aerial view of the Prairie Green landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser, north of Winnipeg. Manitoba PCs are now campaiging on their opposition to searching this landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women police believe are homicide victims. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: As the Oct. 3 election day in Manitoba draws closer, the Progressive Conservatives are now actively campaigning on their opposition to searching a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women police presume are victims of an alleged serial killer.

In a full-page advertisement in the Winnipeg Free Press on Saturday, the PCs drew attention to four party campaign planks — and provided a place of prominence to leader Heather Stefanson’s opposition to the landfill search.

“Stand firm,” reads the ad, next to a photo of Stefanson bearing the caption, “For health and safety reasons, the answer on the landfill dig just has to be no.”

The ad was published two days after a televised party leaders’ debate where Stefanson raised the landfill search during the first opportunity she had to ask NDP Leader Wab Kinew a question about his support for a search. A pair of recent polls suggest the NDP is poised to wrest power away from the PCs.

“Why are you willing to put $184 million and Manitoba workers at risk for a search without a guarantee?” she asked, making reference to the maximum cost estimate for a proposed search of the Prairie Green landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser, north of Winnipeg.

An ad with Heather Stefanson's image and the words "stand firm: For health and safety reasons, the answer on the landfill dig just has to be no.”
A portion of a Progressive Conservative advertisement that ran in the Winnipeg Free Press on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. (Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba)

The Winnipeg Police Service believes the bodies of presumed homicide victims Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran lie within the landfill. The police revealed this in December, setting off discussions about a potential search among all three levels of government, Indigenous leaders and the families of the missing women.

Stefanson initially announced in July the province would not help fund that search, citing health and safety concerns for workers and low prospects of success. The PC leader has since repeated her opposition dozens of times, but only over the past week made this position a central aspect of her messaging.


Chief Kyra Wilson of Long Plain First Nation, the home community of both Myran and Harris, described the new PC strategy as extremely hurtful to the families dealing with the loss of their loved ones. “I think that it’s just a complete lack of compassion and disregard for everyone that’s impacted by this,” she said in an interview.

“The fact that Heather Stefanson and the PCs are using a family’s pain to motivate their campaign messaging, I think that is disgusting. I think that it’s sick.”

Cambria Harris, the daughter of Morgan Harris, accused Stefanson in a Facebook post of launching “a smear campaign” against her family’s desire for the landfill search. “Thank you Heather Stefanson for continuing to show us Manitobans that you do not in fact stand for the Indigenous community,” Harris said in the post.

Formal portrait of a woman.
Chief Kyra Wilson of Long Plain First Nation, the home community for both Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, says the new PC strategy shows a ‘lack of compassion.’ (Submitted by Kyra Wilson)

Nahanni Fontaine, the NDP incumbent candidate for St. John’s, said it’s unfortunate the PC party chose to campaign on its opposition to the landfill search. “I think it is entirely disrespectful to politicize and make this an election issue and I would submit most Manitobans would agree with us,” said Fontaine. “It’s one of many dog whistles that we’re seeing in this election.”

Kevin Klein, the PC candidate for Kirkfield Park, said Sunday it’s fair to describe opposition to a landfill search is a central part of his party’s campaign but insisted “other parties” are raising the landfill search for political gain. “Maybe they see it as a wedge issue. Maybe it will help them. Maybe that’s why they’re talking,” said Klein, whose own mother was murdered in Oshawa, Ont., in 1991.

“I think it’s something that has been made political by others and they’re bringing it back to the forefront and they want to keep talking about this because this is their agenda. “Our premier has not wavered. Our premier has stuck to the facts and her decision.”

Three people in business attire stand at podiums in a TV studio.
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont and Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson debated on Sept. 21 at CBC Manitoba in Winnipeg. Stefanson used her first question to ask Kinew about the NDP’s support for a landfill search. (James Turner/CBC)

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said it’s almost impossible to politically finesse a stance on the landfill search because the ethical and emotional content is so high.  He said Stefanson and the Progressive Conservative Party may genuinely consider a landfill search with a low prospect of success is not fiscally responsible and also may have polling to suggest a segment of the voting public agrees.

Thomas also said it’s possible the PCs are acting defensively now that they’re trailing the NDP in the polls.

“Their goal has become to hold as much political ground as possible. They might calculate that they have to go all-out negative in the final 10 days and make Wab Kinew and Indigenous issues a lightning rod to generate concern and to motivate their supporters,” Thomas said. 

“This is risky. The approach has to be carefully balanced, not hysterical or seen as unfair. Otherwise they might prompt a backlash, especially among women voters in Winnipeg and even more specifically in south Winnipeg.”

Chief Wilson suggested Stefanson’s repeated focus on the potential cost and safety of a landfill search seems to preclude other ways to move forward.

“We’re not saying give us $184 million and we’ll call it a day. What we’re saying is come to the table, have a conversation with us, bring solutions forward,” Wilson said. “That is what she is not doing.”

Manitoba’s election day is Oct. 3.


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.