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Brian Pallister will decide within three weeks whether to pursue the leadership of the provincial Conservative party in Manitoba. The political veteran was only just re-elected federally and most likely would have been heading to cabinet.

"I'm placing my decision in the hands of my constituents and Manitobans," Mr. Pallister, member of Parliament for Portage-Lisgar in Manitoba, west of Winnipeg, said in an interview from his Ottawa office yesterday.

"I don't have to leave federal politics. Unless I hear an overwhelming call, a compelling call, from people saying, 'We need you back here [in Manitoba]' I'm staying in Ottawa."

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However, Mr. Pallister, 51, said "a considerable majority of people" in his riding said during the federal election campaign that he should consider returning to provincial politics.

Mr. Pallister could be a big boost as the Manitoba Tories get ready for an election early as this fall against the incumbent NDP government and popular Manitoba Premier Gary Doer.

If he quits to become leader of the Manitoba Conservatives, the federal party's standing in the House of Commons is unlikely to change. Mr. Pallister received 69.8 per cent of the votes in this month's election, and the Conservatives would almost certainly hold the riding in a byelection.

Mr. Pallister said he didn't decide to look at provincial party leadership until after the federal election and last Thursday asked Prime Minister designate Stephen Harper to exclude him from cabinet considerations.

"The discussion itself was satisfying I think to both of us," Mr. Pallister said of the conservation.

Mr. Harper said in a weekend statement that Mr. Pallister had been an important part of the Conservatives' success federally. "I understand the difficult decision he is undertaking and we will support whatever choice he makes," Mr. Harper said.

Mr. Pallister plans to canvass Manitobans over the next two or three weeks. The leadership convention is April 29 in Winnipeg, and the sale of new party memberships closes a month before that, leaving Mr. Pallister less than two months to organize support if he makes the jump.

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In early November, Manitoba Tory leader Stuart Murray said he was not running again, just a couple weeks before the federal election was called. Mr. Pallister has faced some criticism in Manitoba over waiting until after the election to say he was considering the provincial bid, but Mr. Pallister said he had no choice.

"I would have left the [federal]party in the lurch, no time really for a candidate search process or a nomination meeting," he said.

Mr. Pallister was first elected provincially in 1992 and in 1995 joined the cabinet under Conservative Premier Gary Filmon. In 1997, he quit to run federally as a Progressive Conservative, but lost to a Reform Party candidate. He finished fourth in 1998 for the Progressive Conservative leadership, which was won by Joe Clark, and then worked to unite the right-wing parties, winning Portage-Lisgar in 2000 as a Canadian Alliance candidate and then again in 2004 under the Conservative banner.

Mr. Pallister for years has been considered a future Conservative leader in Manitoba and was rumoured in 2000 to replace the outgoing Mr. Filmon.

"I think the [provincial]NDP are bereft of a vision for Manitoba, but Gary Doer remains inexplicably popular," Mr. Pallister said. "The Manitoba PC party has something to offer but it has challenges ahead of it."

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