Five cabinet ministers who challenged Premier Greg Selinger on his leadership are to resign from cabinet today.

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Five cabinet ministers who challenged Premier Greg Selinger on his leadership are to resign from cabinet today.

Meanwhile, when asked at the door to his office this morning whether there would be a fall throne speech, Selinger would only confirm that there would be a cabinet shuffle today.

The decision of Finance Minister Jennifer Howard, Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Health Minister Erin Selby, Jobs and Economy Minister Theresa Oswald and Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers not only caps a tumultuous week in Manitoba politics, but severely weakens the NDP cabinet at a time the embattled Selinger can least afford it.

Howard told the Free Press Sunday night the five front-bench ministers have little choice in the matter. Each had met with Selinger over the weekend to voice their concerns, but according to a joint statement, found their concerns falling on deaf ears.

They are to release that statement this morning. It was unclear whether Selinger was aware of their decision to step down. Each will continue as an MLA and in their letter of resignation make it clear they will remain New Democrats.

"It’s clear to me nothing had changed," Howard told the Free Press. "It’s increasingly difficult for us to be heard.

"If you’re in cabinet, you need to be able to speak the truth."

The decision of the five ministers to resign their cabinet positions is the strongest signal yet of the divide between the premier and his top ministers and some of his MLAs.

"It’s just not possible for us to function as ministers," Howard said. "You can’t have a government when you can’t be honest."

From left: Minister of Justice Andrew Swan (Minto), Minister for Jobs and the Economy Theresa Oswald (Seine River), Minister of Finance Jennifer Howard (Fort Route), Minister of Health Erin Selby (Southdale), and Minister of Municipal Government Stan Struthers (Dauphin) at a press conference Monday in which they announced their resignation.

From left: Minister of Justice Andrew Swan (Minto), Minister for Jobs and the Economy Theresa Oswald (Seine River), Minister of Finance Jennifer Howard (Fort Route), Minister of Health Erin Selby (Southdale), and Minister of Municipal Government Stan Struthers (Dauphin) at a press conference Monday in which they announced their resignation.

Howard is in the middle of consultations leading up to the NDP’s spring budget, but with her resignation, that responsibility will fall to someone else yet to be chosen, as will each of the other ministers’ responsibilities.

Howard said whomever Selinger appoints to fill their shoes will work in the best interest of the province.

"We were all rookie ministers once," she said, adding a skilled civil service will help in the transition. "The truth is no one is irreplaceable."

The resignations come a week after each minister spoke out against the premier, saying he should resign for the health of the NDP government as it tries to scratch its way back to political respectability after months of bad polling results. Even internal NDP polling indicates the party faces destruction in the next election against Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives.

The anger against the NDP government is in part due to last year’s increase of the provincial sales tax despite a promise by Selinger during the 2011 election campaign not to raise it.

However, in the resignation statement, the five ministers say there are other unspecified issues in which Selinger has ignored their concerns.

Howard also said the move by the five ministers to persuade Selinger to resign, to allow a new leader to be chosen in the spring, is not connected to bad blood lingering from the 2009 NDP leadership race after former premier Gary Doer resigned to become the Canadian ambassador to the United States, a position he still holds.

Howard said after Selinger was elected leader, the party rallied behind him to win 37 seats in the 57-seat legislative assembly, the biggest majority the NDP has won since it came to power in 1999.

She said her actions and those of her four dissident colleagues are the result of several months of internal problems in which Selinger has refused to listen to the concerns and advice of his colleagues.

"We can’t be heard on any topic," Howard said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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.

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