Selinger’s boat taking on water

Two members of inner circle suggest he consider his future

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With the pressure mounting on Premier Greg Selinger to resign, the Manitoba leader seems to be staying out of the public eye.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2014 (2958 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With the pressure mounting on Premier Greg Selinger to resign, the Manitoba leader seems to be staying out of the public eye.

On Monday night, Selinger did not attend the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba’s 50th anniversary gala at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, although organizers expected him to be there after he cancelled a trip to China to focus on issues at home.

This morning, an NDP cabinet meeting has been cancelled.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ‘We know that some people felt jolted by the raising of the PST by one point, and I take responsibility for that’ -- Premier Greg Selinger to reporters last Thursday,

Tory leader Brian Pallister did attend the 50th gala, as did several other members of the Legislative Assembly. Winnipeg mayor-elect Brian Bowman was also there, as was outgoing mayor Sam Katz.

Two members of Selinger’s inner circle have stepped forward to say their boss needs to reflect on his future.

Meanwhile, a party source said Monday Selinger likely has until Christmas to decide whether to remain leader of the NDP.

Finance Minister Jennifer Howard and Municipal Affairs Minister Stan Struthers refused to go as far as to say the premier should step aside. But neither did they say he should stay.

“I think the advice that I would give him is to think carefully about everything that you’re hearing,” Howard said. “When you’re hearing senior party members express the concerns that have been expressed, you have to pay attention to that.”

Both said the decision on whether to go or stay remains with the premier. They refused to give him a deadline, but suggested his decision needs to be made relatively soon.

They said the premier needs to confront the internal party divisions that have sprung up in the wake of the controversial decision to increase the PST by one point on July 1, 2013. The Free Press reported Saturday the decision to break a promise not to raise taxes — and the resulting poor showing by the NDP in recent polls as well as the drubbing former NDP MLA and MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis took in last week’s mayoral race — has created rifts in cabinet and caucus.

“I think he (Selinger) needs to reflect on all that information and come to a decision… ” Struthers said. Struthers, who was finance minister when the NDP announced its decision to increase the PST, was also asked if it had been his decision or the premier’s. “The premier has been very clear from the beginning that he has taken responsibility for this,” he replied.

‘We know that some people felt jolted by the raising of the PST by one point, and I take responsibility for that’

— Premier Greg Selinger to reporters last Thursday

Howard said the government thought raising the tax was the “responsible option,” faced with possible cutbacks to health and education in order to pay for rising flood and infrastructure costs. But in hindsight, she said, there was a better way to do it. “We probably should have had a longer conversation with Manitobans about it and been more forthright about it. And we didn’t do that,” she said.

Both cabinet ministers spoke to reporters after Becky Barrett, a member of the NDP’s provincial executive, said earlier in the day Selinger had lost the trust of Manitobans.

“The people of Manitoba don’t trust the premier, and they believe that he betrayed them when he said in the election that he would not raise their taxes and then he did raise the PST,” Barrett said. “In the 18 months since then, the premier has not been able to regain the trust of the people of Manitoba,” the former NDP cabinet minister added.

That lack of trust also extends to about half of Selinger’s MLAs. Some — including at least three high-ranking cabinet ministers — have asked him in recent weeks to resign by the end of the year so the NDP has a fighting chance against Opposition Leader Brian Pallister’s Tories. The timing would allow for a spring leadership convention and give the NDP a year to showcase a new leader before the next election, expected in April 2016.

“We’ve had over a year of polls that have been consistently showing that the party is doing very poorly across Manitoba — and particularly in Winnipeg — and the leader is doing particularly poorly,” Barrett said.

A recent poll placed the NDP support at 30 per cent compared with 42 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives.

The move from within to oust Selinger first picked up steam at a recent caucus retreat in Brandon, where several MLAs asked him about the government’s plan to pull itself out of its poor poll results. When no plan was forthcoming, or an acknowledgement from Selinger one was needed, the knives started coming out, party insiders say.

CP Stan Struthers

“The plan that they were shown was, ‘Well, I guess I surprised people so I’ll apologize for surprising people,’ ” a party member said. “That’s not a plan. I think that’s what has people frustrated. It’s more than the PST. It’s how they got there. He didn’t consult with people about the PST. He sprung it on everybody.

“It’s kind of sad to watch,” he added. “New Democrats in Manitoba don’t have a history of turning on their leaders.”

Selinger only showed signs of accepting there was a problem last week after Wasylycia-Leis was soundly defeated by mayor-elect Brian Bowman, a result many say was a vote against the NDP government. “We know that some people felt jolted by the raising of the PST by one point, and I take responsibility for that,” Selinger told reporters last Thursday.

The internal pressure on Selinger to step aside is such that he cancelled a trip to China this week as part of a Canadian trade mission. He sent Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn in his place, accompanied by Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee.

The Free Press has also spoken to numerous NDP MLAs, former MLAs, political staff and party members in the past week. They say Selinger, who has led the NDP for five years, has the support of about half his caucus and, as a result, he cannot survive much longer.

“I don’t know what’s driving him right now to try to hang on like this and think that he can fight it back,” the party member said. “How does he lead with only half the support of his caucus?”

In addition to the resentment of Selinger’s clumsy handling of the PST increase, many MLAs are also concerned about a lack of a plan to attack Pallister. They add such a plan would only work in the NDP’s favour if Selinger resigns.

Selinger does have the support of some members of his cabinet and MLAs. They believe the government can weather the storm and still win if he remains at the helm.

CP Jennifer Howard (above), Stan Struthers: questioning Greg Selinger's future as premier

Several NDP MLAs, including Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross and Education Minister James Allum, on Monday pledged their support for the premier. “Nobody cares if we’re fighting and nobody cares if we’re hugging,” one NDP MLA said. “People are just looking for results.”

Pallister said if Selinger resigns around Christmas, and there is a spring leadership convention, it’s a chance for Manitobans to go to the ballot box a year earlier. “A small number of Manitobans will get to decide if the NDP has a new leader or not,” Pallister said. “They shouldn’t get to decide who the premier is. Manitobans should get to decide that.”

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

How do you predict this big political story will play out? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

History

Updated on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 6:34 AM CDT: Replaces photo

Updated on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 7:01 AM CDT: Adds video

Updated on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 9:07 AM CDT: Updates with Selinger not attending Jewish Foundation gala, NDP cabinet meeting cancelled

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