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If not the NDP, who? Hugh McFadyen?

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This past weekend’s provincial NDP convention in Winnipeg is now but a bitter-sweet memory.

The only real highlight—other than Gary What’s-His-Name not being mentioned at al l-- was the debate Saturday on Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk’s gun-to-the-head dictum to the Free Press  a few weeks ago that public-sector unions should willingly accept a two-year wage freeze, or else.

Without thousands of nurses and public servants agreeing to the concession, Wowchuk said the government may have to chop jobs and services to scrimp cash to whack down this past year’s half-billion dollar budget deficit, and the ones to come until the province is deficit-free in 2014.

The unions, naturally, went hog-wild.

"How dare they negotiate in the media?," the unionistas chanted. "Harumph! That’s not fair bargaining!"

So on Saturday, after federal NDP leader Jack Layton had left the building, the union bigwigs got up to the microphones to speak to about 500 party stalwarts about 10-JE-48.

That was the Manitoba Federation of Labour-sponsored resolution to put on the record how unhappy public unions were with Wowchuk and her boss.

Speak they did. Loud and clear.

As Selinger listened from the back of the room, the likes of MLF president Kevin Rebeck and United Food and Commerical Workers Local 832 president Robert Ziegler vented their and their members’ displeasure with how the government was conducting its business.

They said it was a dark day when a government makes threats about wages and layoffs in the media without first talking about these issues at the bargaining table.

They said it could threaten union support for the NDP in the next election Oct. 4, 2011. Once solid NDP supporters will stay home instead of volunteer and even vote, they and others intoned.

In the end the MFL’s resolution passed, but with a whimper.

Labour wanted an unanimous vote from delegates condemning Selinger and his government. They didn’t get it.

At least one man raised his hand in dissent, denying the union brass that prize.

Still, when it was over, Selinger had been spanked.

But so what?

In the end it was all just a show.

Selinger and Wowchuk’s public decree the unions accept a two-year freeze was done in part to show Manitobans, especially those not in a union, that they’re doing their best to cut spending.

And the union bombast Saturday was done more to tell their own members they’re not going to take it lying down. If there were TV cameras in the room, I didn’t see them, so this was more an internal thing than one meant for public consumption.

Selinger played to voters; the unions to their own members.

Despite their own threats, labour won’t sit on the couch next election or gravitate to any other political party.

They know, as the rest of us do, Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen and his bunch aren’t particularly cozy to the union cause. And I doubt very much Tory Labour Critic and Pembina MLA Peter George Dyck has held hands with his brothers and sisters on the strike line and sang Solidarity Forever.

The unions and NDP will kiss and make up. They’ve got no choice. Heck, over a couple of beer Saturday night, they probably already have.

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

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.

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