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Greg Selinger tackles swine flu during first day as Manitoba premier

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WINNIPEG - Greg Selinger's stoic demeanour caved in a little Monday as he was sworn in as Manitoba's 21st premier.

The economics wonk and longtime finance minister's voice cracked as he thanked friends and family gathered inside the legislature's stately reception room.

"I'm obviously humbled and honoured to have this opportunity. It's clearly not possible without the support of your family - and the volunteers," said Selinger, who paused briefly to get his voice back.

It was a rare public display of emotion for a man usually seen calmly discussing budgets, tax incentives and other fiscal issues.

Selinger was finance minister for the last 10 years and was the favourite to succeed Gary Doer, who resigned to become Canada's new ambassador to the United States. Selinger easily beat out leadership rival Steve Ashton at the New Democratic Party's leadership convention Saturday, winning by almost a 2-1 margin.

He steps into his new role just as the province prepares for an expected upsurge in swine flu cases. Some northern Manitoba reserves were among the hardest-hit areas in Canada when the virus first surfaced last spring.

Selinger was briefed on the situation Monday morning and promised to outline the province's vaccine program later in the week.

"Every Manitoban who wants or needs the vaccine will have access to it," he said. "There's been at least $50 million - it'll probably go higher - spent on preparations. All the materials, all the staffing, all of those things are well in hand at this stage of the game."

The flu fight, along with one of the worst floods in the province's history last spring, means the province may have to dip further into its so-called rainy day fund, Selinger said. Still, the provincial economy is growing, albeit slowly, while other provinces are in recession, so the province has room to manoeuvre.

Selinger already talked briefly with other premiers, including Quebec's Jean Charest and Alberta's Ed Stelmach. Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement which said he was looking "forward to working with Premier Selinger."

Manitoba is unlikely to see much of a change in direction. Selinger has promised to follow the same path as Doer, whose centrist approach led the NDP to three straight majority governments.

Among Selinger's first tasks will be to assemble a cabinet. One will be named within two weeks and will include his leadership rival, he said.

Selinger must also call a byelection in Doer's north-Winnipeg constituency, although he would not commit to a timeline. The new premier also plans to lay out his government's agenda in a throne speech before the end of the year.

Voters will have a couple of years to get to know the new premier. Selinger has said he will abide by Manitoba's fixed election date law, under which the next trip to the polls isn't until October 2011.

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