The NDP re-election campaign kicked into high gear today with Premier Greg Selinger’s major shuffling of his cabinet
And leading that campaign are two women who can think quickly in front of the cameras without breaking a sweat and without speaking in a series of "ahs", "ums" and "huhs".
Newly minted Finance Minister Jennifer Howard takes over for Stan Struthers, who found himself last April saddled with the task of selling the PST increase to Manitobans. The Opposition Progressive Conservatives pounced, going for the NDP’s jugular in an extended summer sitting that saw the NDP’s bill to raise the tax without a referendum put on the backburner until next month.
It was ugly to watch. Like sheep getting mauled.
It was clear many NDP MLAs were not happy. They did not fight the 2011 election and win a historic 37 seats to take a pounding by the gleeful Tories.
That pounding made the once-mighty NDP look vulnerable and has seen them take a tailspin in popular support.
This morning Selinger made his move to pull his plane up from nose diving completely.
He called on two of his most able lieutenants to bail him out, the two women who can do what no one else in the NDP bullpen can do.
Besides putting the skillful Howard in charge of the province’s finances, Selinger put Theresa Oswald in charge of the new department simply called Jobs and the Economy. Gone is the wordy Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade. Oswald has proven herself as health minister — until today the longest-serving health minister in Canada at seven years — and needs a new challenge.
Selling the PST hike, alongside Howard, is that challenge. They will be the main faces of the NDP for the next two years when we go to the polls.
In a media scrum after they were sworn in, they each deftly batted each question until the throng had no more questions.
Easy, peasy. You could see the cabinet spokesthingies in the background listening. None of them were going to interrupt with, "One last question." They needed them to keep talking to begin to repair the damage inflicted since April.
Selinger described his shuffle as pushing a "reset" button.
That perhaps is a bad word to use — for a real "reset" he needed to repeal the tax increase.
What it was instead was more of a resuscitation, and breathing new life into what looked like a dead government walking.
Putting Howard and Oswald in charge of selling the PST, if their performances over the past two years are any indication, will go a long way in doing that.
And restore that confidence the NDP badly need.
We’ll see by how much in about four weeks when the government presents its throne speech.
The Tories are already licking their chops.