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Life of the party

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Premier Greg Selinger.

Greg Selinger, premier of Manitoba.

Manitoba's premier, Greg Selinger.

No matter how the words are configured, they seem odd, especially to the ear. And not just to my ears, but to the ears of everyone I've asked.

I suppose in time premier and Selinger will seem a good fit -- certainly that's what the New Democratic Party must be banking on, that two years from now Manitobans will have forgotten that it was Gary Doer they elected premier three times, and Premier Greg Selinger never at all. He was made premier by the NDP faithful, a small minority of Manitobans.

Which is not a complaint that Selinger somehow got something that he didn't earn. Someone, after all, had to step into the office when Doer stepped out. And the leadership convention, while unconventional, was the only practical, and constitutionally grounded, vehicle to fill the vacuum.

But at the same time, it is difficult to believe that most Manitobans who voted for Doer's governments will simply switch their allegiance to Selinger because they see that as best serving their non-partisan interests, as a few thousands of partisan New Democrats have done.

Greg Selinger is a smart, decent guy, but that doesn't mean he's a winner.

Stuart Murray was a smart, decent guy, but he wasn't Gary Filmon. Nor was Paul Martin able to fill Jean Chrétien's shoes even after he forced Chrétien out of them.

The Martin-Chrétien comparison is not perfect, but the similarities are interesting.

Unlike Doer, Chrétien did not go out on his own terms -- he was pushed out by his rival and his rival's supporters in the party. Liberals assumed that if they saw Martin as the best choice, everyone else would, too. But they didn't.

A bit simplistic, I agree, because a bunch of other things were happening at the same time as Liberals were betting the farm on Martin -- Adscam for starters and coalescence on the right.

But then, other things will happen in Manitoba over the next two years, too.

At the moment there is the glow of the convention, and the conviction that continuity has been passed like royal jelly from Doer to Selinger.

And in truth, that's certainly the way it appears. Premier Greg Selinger has been out and about, seemingly making an announcement a day.

But that's an appearance. It's simply a function of how carefully managed the government agenda has become the longer the government has been in office.

The best example was the last election when every conceivable bit of good news was marshalled to occur on the day of the election call.

The campaign that followed wasn't a platform so much as a throne speech and budget -- there was little promised that hadn't already been determined to be fundable or doable and would have been delivered exactly according to a predetermined timetable, election or not.

The same continues today. Does anyone believe that the recent daycare and mining announcements were not pencilled in months ago and that, had Doer stayed, the ministers responsible for announcements would not have made them? Instead, it was Premier Selinger, here there and everywhere making the utterly routine "special" as a means of burnishing his, um, premier-isterial credentials.

It might work over two years, and if I was betting today, I would bet that it will work. Especially given that the opposition parties appear to be missing in action.

But that's today.

What about the Doer, er, Selinger team?

Well, the last time I saw them together was at the convention. And what a motley crew they made.

You see it is required of New Democrats, especially elite New Democrats, that they show deference to the "real power" of the party, the "ordinary, kitchen table, blue collar" delegate.

They achieved this by dressing like they had arrived from working in the yard.

Man, they looked ordinary, nobodies except to party friends, which, suddenly, in the absence of the Doer mystique, they are in danger of proving themselves to be.

The other thing striking was that in the absence of the charismatic and energizing Doer, in the presence of the solemn Steve Ashton and the stolid Selinger, they all seemed much too familiar, much older and tired.

Which, of course, many of them are. They've been there 10 years and it will be 12 years come the next election.

It was crystal clear that Gary Doer's departure was a body blow -- that Gary Doer was the life of the party.

 

gerald.flood@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2009 H11

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