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Out of the starting gate

Three candidates say why, in a nutshell, they should be premier

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Legislature reporter Larry Kusch got the three NDP leadership candidates this week to talk about the issues facing the province and what sets them apart from their competitors.

Andrew Swan 

Twitter-length bio: 41, Silver Heights grad, lawyer, Minto MLA past five yrs, 18 mo. in cabinet as competitiveness minister, marathoner, married, two daughters

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What he brings to the race:

Swan is positioning himself as the candidate of the future as well as the present. "One of the key things that I've heard from a lot of people is that this is the time, with Gary Doer stepping down (as party leader) after 21 years, for the passing of the baton, a generational change, to somebody from the next level of New Democrats who's prepared to lead for today and tomorrow... I'm, of course, more than a decade younger than both of the other competitors."

Swan said the NDP tends to elect younger leaders, noting that Doer was 40 when he took over the party in 1988, Howard Pawley was 44 when he assumed the leadership and Ed Schreyer was only 32 when he became party leader. All became premier. He said his relative youth means he can bring "a higher level of energy, a higher level of enthusiasm" to the job.

How to build the economy:

Swan said his goal is to have Manitoba become a centre for green technology in the same way it became a centre of excellence in the grain industry decades ago.

"We all know about hydro and the benefits there. I'm also looking at hydrogen as being a major technology for the future. The recipe for hydrogen is water and electricity. There's no place in the world I think that's better-placed to be able to attract manufacturers and scientists to deal with hydrogen technology than Manitoba."

He said one of the keys in achieving that is attracting capital, which he admits has been a "struggle for most provinces." He notes that he was one of the ministers to launch the province's innovation council, a blue-chip panel of business and government leaders and academics whose role is to help attract such new industries to Manitoba. "I will take their recommendations very seriously," he said.

Prescription for health care:

Swan said he is delighted that Manitoba was the first province to have a minister of healthy living, and he thinks the government must focus on preventing illness by promoting healthy diets and an active lifestyle.

"The biggest enemy we have is chronic disease. As somebody who is a runner (he ran the half-marathon in this year's Manitoba Marathon)... the more people we can convince to engage in a healthy lifestyle, to make the right choices, the less pressure there's going to be" on the health care system, he said.

Prescription for social and economic justice:

Swan says he takes a "meat-and-potatoes" approach to such issues. The key is to improve the availability of safe, affordable housing, particularly in the cities of Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson. If families are moving three or four times a year, their kids are not be able to "become grounded in a school," and it's difficult to find day care or have a family doctor.

He says he thinks housing is such an important issue that he would make it a stand-alone government department, which would also be responsible for rent controls and have the ability to assist in the development of co-op housing. Now, all co-ops are the responsibility of Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

Ability to lead his party to victory:

Swan sees himself as a centrist who can relate to both business and labour and hold the gains the NDP has made in suburban Winnipeg under Gary Doer, while retaining the party's traditional strongholds. "I think that I'm the best candidate to continue holding onto our rural seats, the best candidate to hold onto our suburban seats, which we know is going to be the battleground in 2011."

Greg Selinger

Twitter-length bio: 58, St. James Coll. grad, PhD London School of Econ., ex-social worker & univ. prof., finance min. since '99, ex-city coun. Married, 2 sons

What he brings to the race:

Selinger said he offers the NDP a leader who is ready to govern right now. "I think people have said that they want somebody in there with a steady hand on the rudder of the ship of government. We're in tricky times financially, as you know, in and out of a recession. And it's going to take a steady-as-you-go approach going forward to ensure that we provide essential services and do it in a responsible manner."

How to build the economy:

"My view on economic growth is that you need to first of all help Manitoba move further along the road towards a greener economy," Selinger said. The province is already doing that through investments in hydroelectric power, geothermal heating and cooling and wind power.

Before becoming a leadership candidate, Selinger test drove a plug-in hybrid car, and he says such vehicles have great potential in urban areas. "You can actually get around the city just about entirely on electricity and what a resource we have (cheap hydro) to support that kind of thing."

Selinger said investments in research and development are also key to growing the economy, noting that the R & D tax credit in his last budget is the highest in the country. These investments, he said, allow companies to develop new products and services that allow them to become competitive on a global basis.

He said he also, as premier, will do more to develop a well-trained workforce by improving high school graduation rates, encouraging more collaboration between business and post-secondary institutions and expanding the use of co-op education tax credits.

Prescription for health care:

The province has done a good job of "rebuilding" the numbers of doctors, nurses and technicians in the health-care system and needs to continue doing that, Selinger said.

The government must also do more to promote healthy lifestyles, which means a strengthened Manitoba Healthy Living department, greater emphasis on wellness and community-based clinics and investments in recreational facilities and sports. It could also do more to promote volunteerism -- perhaps with the help of a tax credit, he said, noting that people who "are engaged in doing things for others" tend to have "healthier lifestyles and healthier outcomes."

Prescription for social and economic justice:

Here, Selinger is running on his record as the co-chairman (along with Family Services Minister Gord Macintosh) of the province's All Aboard poverty-reduction strategy announced a few months ago. Years in the making, it involves an investment of $230 million to support a host of initiatives including safe, affordable housing, poverty reduction, mental health services and job opportunities.

"We have a strong immigration program in Manitoba as we're rebuilding our population. We have a lot of folks who need decent, affordable housing. We've made some major investments there, and we have to continue to invest in affordable and social housing so that people have a stable place to live."

Ability to lead his party to victory:

Selinger said he brings experience, judgment and a "proven track record" in government to the leader's job. He said he has the energy, the ideas and "a passion to move Manitoba forward."

Steve Ashton

Twitter-length bio: 53, Parker Collegiate (Thompson) grad, economist, 1st elected '81, several cabinet jobs. Married, 2 kids; daughter Niki is MP for Churchill

What he brings to the race:

Ashton said he brings experience, vision and ideas to the leadership race and a strong belief that "the premier has to represent all Manitobans."

He said he would ensure that all segments of the population are included in government. "We've got a hundred languages spoken in this province, the highest aboriginal population. I want to see that reflected in everything we do as a government. I also think it's a huge asset internationally."

Critics have attacked the Doer government over the years for lacking vision. Ashton said he isn't hesitant to outline a plan for the next 10 years. And over the next several weeks of the campaign, he will be setting out specific visions for rural Manitoba, the cities and the north. "We're not a one-size-fits-all province," he said.

How to build the economy:

Ashton said he would continue to make "significant investments" in infrastructure, including building roads to remote communities.

He would also use the province's tremendous ethnic diversity to leverage foreign investment in Manitoba and increase the number of trade missions abroad.

"We're competing globally now and we have to have all of those potential advantages put to use," he said.

He said Manitoba has the country's second-youngest population, and its young, growing population provides "a huge economic advantage." But changing demographics and the rapidly changing nature of the workforce will require a greater focus on post-secondary education.

Prescription for health care:

Like his leadership competitors, Ashton said a key element of his health-care strategy is to maintain the public health-care system, reflecting the basic principles of medicare.

As premier, he would boost the province's relatively new Manitoba Health Living department, giving it a bigger budget and a higher profile within government. "I think it's an important initiative and I think it's one of the legacies of our first 10 years (in office)," he said.

Illness prevention is "absolutely critical," he said, and that means promoting an active lifestyle and re-investing in recreation centres.

Prescription for social and economic justice:

Ashton said affordable housing remains a key area that needs to be addressed. "I'd like to see a summit on housing early, early on as premier because this is a growing challenge," he said.

The government has invested heavily in public housing, he said, but it must also work with the private sector to increase the number of rental units. He suggested that he would use tax incentives to boost apartment construction.

Ability to lead his party to victory:

Ashton said the key for the NDP is to continue to represent all regions of the province, and he believes he can ably take the party's message to all parts of Manitoba.

"Certainly I've got a track record within politics -- eight straight victories (as MLA for Thompson since 1981). He quips that he began by winning his seat by 72 votes and most recently won it with 72 per cent of the vote.

"In my own community I've been able to pull people together from all different political persuasions," he said, noting that the mayor of Thompson, who ran for the Liberals against Ashton in the 1990s, is now one of his supporters.

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2009 A6

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