April 22, 2017

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Hidden from public eye, Selinger appears to be searching for graceful exit

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Greg Selinger keeps a low profile at the Manitoba legislature Wednesday.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Greg Selinger keeps a low profile at the Manitoba legislature Wednesday.

Greg Selinger still travels to his job at the legislature every day — often on his bicycle — but most Manitobans wouldn’t know he was there, given his low profile.

The 66-year-old St. Boniface MLA and former premier, who in 2011 led the NDP to its largest-ever majority, goes out of his way to stay out of the news.

As an Opposition NDP member, he asks no questions of the Pallister government in the House — even though he would certainly be one of the party’s most able interrogators if he did. His duties as critic are limited to overseeing Francophone affairs, which is not a controversial file these days. 

Selinger limits his role in the legislative chamber to member statements in French and the occasional speech — usually when few MLAs, or journalists, are in attendance. 

He restricts media interviews to French-language outlets and only on subjects related to his St. Boniface constituency. (The Free Press has repeatedly asked for an interview -- as recently as Wednesday -- but the requests have always been denied.)

A year after the NDP’s spectacular electoral collapse, Selinger appears to be a man in search of a graceful exit.

Winnipeg political scientist Paul Thomas said it makes sense for the former premier and longtime NDP finance minister to stay out of the limelight.

"For his fiercest critics inside the party he is symbol of a dark period in the history of the party," Thomas said, referring to a cabinet revolt that forced Selinger to put his leadership on the line in a contest that he would narrowly win.

"Keeping a low profile limits the opportunities for the government to remind the media and the public of (NDP) broken promises, mismanagement and a very public feud over leadership," he said. "The party wants those memories to fade, especially as it seeks a new leader, add members and crawls its way out of a deep financial hole."

Selinger resigned as NDP leader on election night last year after more than six years at the helm. His party is down to a dozen seats in the legislature after winning 14 in the election. Kevin Chief resigned his Point Douglas seat for a job in the private sector. Another MLA, Mohinder Saran, was ousted from the NDP caucus after being accused of sexually harassing a staff member.

If Selinger had resigned his seat immediately, it may have been seen as a slap in the face to his constituency, which he had represented for 17 years.

Some speculate he may have also been concerned that if he were to depart too soon, St. Boniface could have fallen into Tory hands in a byelection.

It makes more sense, they say, for him to stay on as MLA until after a new permanent leader is chosen at a convention in Winnipeg this September. With some momentum arising from the leadership contest, the party might stand a better chance of retaining the seat.

While Selinger has hardly made a splash in the legislature since his party was crushed at the polls a year ago, his vast institutional knowledge has made him a valuable resource for inexperienced MLAs, insiders say. They say he has gone about his job in a quiet, upbeat manner -- without a chip on his shoulder.

In a rare speech in the legislature Wednesday afternoon, addressing the Pallister government’s April 11 budget, the former premier highlighted several areas of concern, including slow progress by the Progressive Conservatives in increasing the number of licensed day care spaces, looming higher university tuitions, a failure to commit to restorative justice programs and higher tax credits for contributions to political parties.

"That only tilts the democracy towards those that have the resources and the power and the access (to power), and takes it away from those that don’t," he said on the latter point.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Larry Kusch .

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