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Assessing their options

High-profile New Democrats take time to consider run at leadership

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A day after Premier Gary Doer pulled the plug on his 23-year political career to become Canada's ambassador to the U.S., the contenders to replace him largely avoided the limelight as they pondered their futures.

Senior ministers said they needed at least the weekend to see if they have the family, political support and intestinal fortitude to take over as NDP party leader and assume the province's biggest political job.

Many said Friday they had no idea Doer would resign Thursday and until now hadn't contemplated a run for the leadership.

"I really don't want to speculate about the leadership," said Labour and Immigration Minister Nancy Allan, thought by some to be interested in Doer's old job. "I'm just still grieving."

An official for Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh said he is also taking the weekend to decide what he should do.

The same was true for Intergovernmental Affairs Steve Ashton, one of the few ministers Friday to meet with reporters. "I certainly will be looking at it," the longtime Thompson MLA said, adding he will be talking to party members in his constituency and across the province before making a decision.

All three said they had no inkling Doer would step down when he did.

The party executive is meeting Monday evening to set a time and place for a leadership convention. Provincial party president Lorraine Sigurdson said Friday it would be difficult logistically to hold the convention before mid-October.

Ashton said most leadership contenders would want to know more about the timing and format of a convention before throwing their hat into the ring.

None of the names bandied for the leadership would confirm they were running on Friday.

"I'm still sitting on the fence," Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Pat Martin said. "No one can commit to anything until they know what the rules are."

Health Minister Theresa Oswald was not available Friday, saying through an intermediary that her top priority now is preparing for a potential flu outbreak. The spokesman said that Oswald will discuss her future with her family.

The timing of the convention will be crucial for many candidates, who will have difficulty marshalling support and selling memberships if the timeline is tight.

Under party rules a delegate to a convention must have been a party member in good standing for at least 30 days. A constituency's delegate strength at convention will be determined based on the number of eligible members it has 30 days prior to the convention.

That constraint won't give candidates enough time to sell memberships as there's pressure on the party to decide Doer's successor quickly, as early as four to six weeks, Martin said.

The pressure to decide the leadership quickly is to show that the government can function smoothly without Doer at a time when the economy is just recovering and there is a threat of an H1N1 flu outbreak.

"I'm not sure people will want to throw things open," Martin said.

Martin's federal colleague, Winnipeg North NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, said she doesn't want the job.

"I'm flattered, but I'm just not at all interested in pursuing the leadership," she said Friday.

She said that Bill Blaikie, a former colleague of hers in Ottawa, likely isn't a serious candidate. "I only see him being involved in government," Wasylycia-Leis said of Blaikie.

Meanwhile, Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said the pressure on the NDP to replace Doer quickly, and to show party harmony to Manitobans, could mean the leadership race will be more of a coronation than a contest.




Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2009 A4

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