Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What's the premier waiting for?

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Manitoba's Progressive Conservative Party is ready and raring to fill the vacant seat in the constituency of Morris.

The problem? Premier Greg Selinger won't drop the writ for a byelection.

Byelections by the numbers

  • 1997, Portage la Prairie (154 days): PC MLA Brian Pallister resigned April 28, 1997; byelection was held Sept. 30, 1997.
  • 1998, Charleswood (181 days): PC MLA Jim Ernst resigned Oct. 28, 1997; byelection was held April 28, 1998.
  • 2000, Kirkfield Park (75 days): PC MLA Eric Stefanson resigned Sept. 7, 2000; byelection was held Nov. 21, 2000.
  • 2000, Tuxedo (64 days): Premier Gary Filmon resigned Sept. 18, 2000; byelection was held Nov. 21, 2000.
  • 2002, Lac du Bonnet (32 days): PC MLA Darren Praznik resigned Feb. 8, 2002; byelection was held March 12, 2002.
  • 2004, Minto (32 days): NDP MLA MaryAnn Mihychuk resigned May 21, 2004; byelection held June 22, 2004.
  • 2004, Turtle Mountain (35 days): PC MLA Merv Tweed resigned May 25, 2004; byelection was held June 29, 2004.
  • 2005, Fort Whyte (78 days): PC MLA John Loewen resigned Sept. 26, 2005; byelection was held Dec. 13, 2005.
  • 2009, Elmwood (207 days): NDP MLA Jim Maloway resigned Aug. 29, 2008; byelection was held March 24, 2009.
  • 2009, The Pas (143 days): NDP MLA Oscar Lathlin died Nov. 1, 2008; byelection was held March 24, 2009.
  • 2010, Concordia (186 days): Premier Gary Doer resigned Aug. 27, 2009; byelection was held March 2, 2010.
  • 2012, Fort Whyte (82 days): PC MLA Hugh McFadyen resigned June 14, 2012; byelection was held Sept. 4, 2012.


-- source: Elections Manitoba and Free Press archives

The delay in filling Morris -- left open when Tory MLA Mavis Taillieu stepped down in February -- has been a source of frustration for Tory Leader Brian Pallister. It's a safe Tory seat and the party has nominated someone it hopes is an up-and-coming young star in Shannon Martin, the former Manitoba director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Why won't Selinger call a byelection? Although the premier has a year to fill a vacancy, spring is by most accounts the preferred window for an election. A spokesman for the province would only say "the focus of the premier and his MLAs is making progress on the priorities of Manitoba families."

Is Selinger looking for a political advantage to steal Morris from the Tories? There isn't much chance of that happening. As a result, any delay in calling a vote will easily be seen as an act of spiteful retribution.

If that's the case, perhaps this is in response to the Tory effort to stall voting on the NDP's budget bill, now stuck in procedural wrangling. The Tories are threatening to push debate on the bill into July, which would mean the province would not have legislative authority to spend money, nor the ability to formally enact its proposed hike in the PST to fund infrastructure.

That seems the most likely scenario. As we're now in early June, it looks as if the earliest a byelection could be held would be September. That means Selinger has made a deliberate decision not to go sooner, something that has to be part of a political response to the Tory mischief in the Manitoba legislature.

A September byelection in Morris would mean this would be one of the longest vacancies ever in Manitoba. Since 1997, there have been nine byelections with vacancies of between 32 and 207 days. If Selinger waits until mid-September, he runs the risk of setting a new record.

In general, it seems to take longer to drop the writ on a byelection when it was being vacated by, or held open for, a party leader. In 2000, it took just 64 days to elect a new MLA for Tuxedo to replace outgoing premier and PC Party leader Gary Filmon. It might have taken longer, but Filmon stayed for nearly a year after losing the 1999 election. Most defeated party leaders vacate their leadership and seats on election night.

In 2005, it took 78 days to elect a new MLA for Fort Whyte after Tory John Loewen resigned to run for the federal Liberal party. The seat was eventually filled by Hugh McFadyen, who went on to replace Tory leader Stuart Murray, forced from the leadership by a vote at his party's AGM.

That melodrama created what is, in the last 20 years, the longest vacancy in the legislature. Murray resigned his Kirkfield Park seat in September 2006, after which no byelection was called. The seat was left vacant until the May 22, 2007 election, a total of 229 days.

In 2012, it took 82 days to elect a new Fort Whyte MLA when McFadyen resigned, creating a seat for incoming leader Brian Pallister. However, the vote took place just 36 days after Pallister was acclaimed leader. Pallister initially complained the byelection was held just after the Labour Day weekend, meaning he had to campaign during the last gasp of summer-vacation season. As Morris drags on, there is a small chance he regrets complaining about being rushed last year.

For the most part, Gary Doer as premier loved snap byelections, even if it meant holding it in conflict with federal or municipal votes. In addition to the timely byelections of 2000 to fill Tuxedo and Kirkfield Park, three other times Doer managed to fill a vacant seat just over a month after it was left vacant: Lac du Bonnet (2007), Minto (2004) and Turtle Mountain (2004).

If Selinger waits until September, Morris will have been vacant for about seven months, not a record but close. Any further push into the fall would most definitely be setting a new standard for political passive aggressiveness.

The most frustrating part of this story is the NDP government's failure to enunciate a reason for delaying the vote. If a reason was given, we could all pass judgement on this as political strategy.

It looks very likely Morris citizens will be without provincial political representation for at least another three months. That means residents won't have to deal with pesky wannabe MLAs knocking on their doors this summer.

Depending on your perspective, that makes Morris either the most democratically disadvantaged riding in the province, or the most envied.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2013 A6


Updated on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 7:34 AM CDT: adds sidebar

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