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Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

  • NDP: Walk and chew gum?

    You don't have to dig that far back into history to find the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals have had their own problems with leadership.

    Or even the Greens. They're about to elect a new leader Nov. 15 who could very well end up being their old leader. 

    To say the PCs have been a lovey bunch since 1999, all hugs and kisses, would be stretch. Until recently, the PCs have had the sharpest knives in the drawer.

    Anyone remember Stu Murray? Or Hugh McFadyen? Murray was shown the door in 2005 after a caucus revolt and McFadyen jumped on the grenade after leading the PCs to nowheresville in the 2011 election.

    And how about Brian Pallister? No one ran against him to be leader to replace McFadyen. That's not exactly the epitome of a healthy political party.

    Dig a little deeper and read about the leadership battle between Sterling Lyon and Sid Spivak in the 1970s. The undercurrent of WASP vs. Jew still haunts the Tories. 

    Then there are the Liberals. They dumped MLA Jon Gerrard as their leader last year in favour of the politically untested Rana Bokhari. If Bokhari fails to budge the party in the next election, how long do you think she'll survive? If she fails to make meat out of the roadkill that currently are the New Democrats, she'll become a Wikipedia footnote like Ginny Hasselfield.

    Now the NDP: Premier Greg Selinger, at this point anyway, is going to defend his name at an upcoming leadership contest. He's silenced the wolves, but behind the trees they're still circling.

    The Tories and Liberals say it's unfair to us great unwashed that a handful of union rabble at a NDP leadership convention get to pick who'll be the next premier.

    The Opposition also says it's unfair that whomever the NDP selects will get to sit in the premier's office until the next general election, which at this point is scheduled for April 2016.

    They want a spring election or, in other words, for the government to toss its set election date legislation and send us to the polls sooner than later, possibly coinciding with a federal election. We all know what happens when the NDP "ignores" legislation, don't we?

    They also say the NDP can't govern and hold a leadership contest at the same time. The picture they paint is that the NDP will be too busy with its own business than the business of government. Manitoba could become a Walking Dead wasteland.

    They forget Manitoba didn't fall off the map when former premier Gary Doer resigned in 2009. His departure led to a leadership race that saw Selinger replace him three months later.

    In those three months the NDP demonstrated they could walk, chew gum and blow bubbles at the same time.

    They say they'll do it again. They must. They have no choice. It's the only way they can dig themselves out of the grave they've dug and begin to rewrite their obituary.

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  • Eric Robinson on the week

    If I've learned anything covering the legislature, it's when Eric Robinson speaks, shut the heck up and listen.

    I've also learned that when you travel with Robinson, he knows everybody.

    I spoke to the deputy premier and minister of aboriginal and northern affairs shortly after Premier Greg Selinger rejigged his cabinet in the wake of the resignations of five of his now-former ministers.

    Robinson was handed the responsibility for Manitoba Hydro in the cabinet reboot. Manitoba Hydro is not a simple, wing-it file. Robinson is already familiar with a lot of hydro-related issues, but he's also got a lot of catching up to do before he can perform with some degree of authority when question period resumes.

    "I just happen to be the first Indian in the country to take on this kind of responsibility," Robinson said. "I don't know if that's smart or not smart. I have no idea. Time will tell. At the very least, I'm going to give it a good effort."

    Here's what Robinson thinks of the recent rebellion within cabinet:

    "Every family has its differences, but we don't go and spill out our guts to the public on our differences," he said. 

    "I think that what we have to realize is that we made a decision, collectively, the whole works of us including myself," he said in approving the increase to the provincial sales tax by one point to eight per cent.

    "I didn't feel comfortable with that nor did a lot of other people, but we had to make some harsh decisions, because that's why we're elected. We're not elected to come and sit here and look handsome or pretty. We're here to make some harsh and sometimes unpopular decisions for the betterment of our fellow citizens and for the betterment of our province."

    Robinson said for those five ministers to now criticize Selinger more than a year after the tax hike is "totally irresponsible."

    "That doesn't demonstrate to me leadership," he said.

    Robinson also said he's never seen the premier exhibit a my-way-or-the-highway attitude, as alleged by his critics.

    "He's always been open to me. He's always been open to the people around me."

    Robinson said for the good of government there is no choice but for the premier to carry on.

    "We were elected by people who have some trust in us, that we'll make the proper decisions on their behalf," he said. "That's what I'm aiming to do in the ongoing work that's left to do."

     

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  • Some perspective on the week

    For months, if not years, the NDP government has been in chaos.

    But it was all kept carefully secret, diligently protected from public view and certainly away from the media.

    It was a problem within the family that even close relatives weren't supposed to know about and certainly not the neighbours.

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    Only when Selinger cancelled a trip to China as part of trade mission did the family secret begin to slowly come out.

    Like a confession.

    The wounds, those divisions, those ill feelings and perhaps even hatred are now out in the open.

    The increase of the provincial sales tax, forced municipal amalgamation and the yanking of video-lottery terminal revenue from the Manitoba Jockey Club are three of the more higher-profile, government-inspired initiatives behind that confession.

    Perhaps all were needed, perhaps all really were sound policies, but all were dreadfully handled by the NDP.

    None were completely thought out. They were just imposed. Just like that. Just because.

    All backfired to varying degrees. All made the NDP government under Premier Greg Selinger look weak and ineffectual.

    Were these three issues discussed by caucus before landing at cabinet? Were they part of the NDP's agenda?

    Or Selinger's?

    The damage from each of these divisive initiatives has been worn by others. Not just Selinger. Other cabinet ministers were thrown in front of the cameras to explain what happened, and why. In some instances, like with the jockey club, the damage was made even worse.

    Fast forward to today.

    The question on everyone's minds is what happens next.

    Who blinks first?

    Selinger or his cabinet detractors?

    To suggest the five ministers, Swan, Howard, Oswald, Struthers and Selby, are acting independently would not be entirely accurate. There are more of them, and in snippets of conversation with other ministers and MLAs, you get the feeling that these five were designated to speak out because of their higher rank in government.

    They didn't draw straws.

    They would not have deliberately stepped out from the shadows to assail Selinger if they did not have the support of the majority of caucus and senior staff.

    There might be a disagreement about how things ended up being handled and portrayed, but there is little if any argument from the NDP caucus on the need for it to be done.

    No one in caucus has said it was outright wrong for the five ministers to attack the premier. None of them is calling for the five to resign. Some have complained the matter should have been kept behind closed doors, but that's as far as the condemnation goes.

    And they must have known, or certainly should have known, that Selinger would not go quietly.

    They've watched for months as Selinger failed to acknowledge the depth to which the NDP has fallen since 2011. They've watched him shrug his shoulders and continue on like nothing's happened.

    Something had to be done to finally get his attention - nothing else has worked. And the chance of any of them voluntarily resigning their cabinet posts is slim to none. If they go, so too must their supporters.

    Who knows what the next few days - let's hope it's not weeks - will bring.

    With this apparent stalemate the business of the government will grind to a halt, if it hasn't already.

    Government announcements have slowed down considerably to less than a trickle. What does get sent out can safely be ignored. And certainly, we don't hear these two words anymore: ministerial availability.

    And with the growing likelihood of no throne speech, with no fall sitting, the government becomes even more isolated, even more irrelevant.

    Again, who blinks first?

    I think we already know. It's just a matter of when.

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  • Mr. Premier: It's time

    The betting is Premier Greg Selinger resigns by the end of the week, if not today.

    He’s got no choice.

    The movement against him from within his own party, including from some of his once-most-trusted lieutenants, is just too strong.

    What’s also working against him is that in less than a month the NDP government is to present its throne speech, its policy blueprint for the coming year.

    I can tell you without hesitation what the top of the story will be on that day if Selinger has not resigned by then.

    "Premier Greg Selinger presented his government’s plan today for the next year, a year many close to him believe is the last year the NDP will be in power."

    The NDP cannot allow that. They cannot allow themselves to be seen as a lame-duck government.

    There are those loyal to Selinger who still support him, but they’re just looking for daisies in the cracks of the pavement.

    Selinger also cannot be seen to be dragging the political fortunes of the NDP down with him. If he decides for some reason to cling to his office, he might as well slip a note under Opposition Leader Brian Pallister’s door saying, "Hey, Bri, I’m keeping the chair warm for you."

    It gives me no pleasure to write this, but Selinger has to put on a brave face and step down immediately. In the next moment, he has to tell Manitobans that he will remain premier until a new leader is chosen. I suspect a leadership convention will have to be held before the NDP introduces its next budget in the early spring.

    The NDP, since it came to power in 1999, has always taken great pride in being able to reinvent itself to stay relevant.

    Now is one of those times.

    bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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