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The spicy gumbo of Tory contenders

It looks like the Manitoba Tory leadership race is swiftly turning into a spicy gumbo of contenders, even if the stew doesn't include Stu Murray.

It seems we were hasty in thinking that MP Brian Pallister wouldn't give up the bright lights of big city Ottawa for the simple pleasures of his home province.

Pallister, it seems, is not being coy when he's not denying an interest in running for Stuart Murray's job. He just wants reassurance he's not taking a leap off the same cliff.

We hear he is gathering a list of 500 names as an endorsement. 500! Holey moley.

But there's the matter of a federal election and that's playing havoc with Pallister's plans. We hope Pallister also understands the optics of his entry into the race.

If he drops out of federal politics before the election, he looks like a quitter. ( The Tory party already has one running for office in Hugh McFadyen.) If he runs and the federal Conservative Party comes up short again, he'll be coming to Manitoba a loser. Which does he want to campaign as, Brian Pallister the quitter or Brian Pallister the loser?

And he'll have to face Hugh McFadyen, whose dithering guaranteed that Reg Alcock would run with minimal opposition. When you start talking let bygones be bygones, you're in Stu Murray-John Loewen territory, and we know where that got Stuart Murray.

McFadyen, meanwhile, drops strong hints he should be the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. He still has to win the Fort Whyte by-election and now that a date has been set, he'll have to have lots and lots of election signs printed up. He could have used the signs he had made up for his aborted run against Reg Alcock, except that, we hear, he never had any signs printed.

Funny, isn't it, that a veteran of 12 election campaigns didn't have any election signs printed for an election that was expected to be called any minute after he won the nomination? We said he was comic relief. A laugh a minute, which is about how long his dedication to a race lasts.

And add Heather Stefanson to the list of potential candidates. Lots of Tories are asking if she's running, so many, in fact, that we hear she's started mulling it over. At 35 she would be the youngest candidate. Her performance in the Legislature as Health Critic shows she's no pushover.

And how about this...guess who's showing up on Tory radar?

Here's a clue. He's the backroom's worst nightmare.

Let's hear it for------Darren Praznik.

His people were working the room at the Tory convention last week and they've been sounding out the caucus this week.

That's what we get for trusting the papers to tell us he wasn't leaving his six-figure job in Toronto. He's the executive director of government relations with the Canadian Blood Services, which may be as dry as it sounds. His big project a couple of years ago was making June the national blood donation month.

Praznik was prepared to step into Gary Filmon's big shoes in 2000 before the Tory powers-behind-the-scenes decided that neophyte Stuart Murray would make a better leader and parachuted him in with so much money tied to his belt that Darren got the hint and stepped aside.

This time the shoes are smaller and the chefs in the backroom have lost a lot of clout.

The race is on and already the pot is boiling.

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