Oswald hauls out big gun with 2016 in mind

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Wracked by turmoil and paralyzed by internal political bickering, could the Manitoba NDP still somehow win the next provincial election?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/02/2015 (2782 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Wracked by turmoil and paralyzed by internal political bickering, could the Manitoba NDP still somehow win the next provincial election?

Most of the political world outside the NDP would say no, particularly with a messy and acrimonious leadership race going on and poll results that hover on the “edge of the abyss” territory.

However, deep within the current governing party there is still hope of capturing a mandate in April 2016, even if it is remote.

This is proof positive one of the required qualities of top political strategists is the ability to, even in the most dire of circumstances, somehow find a glimmer of hope. And maintain that hope right up until the moment when it’s clear there really is none.

Oddly, the issue of which leadership contender — Premier Greg Selinger or former cabinet ministers Steve Ashton and Theresa Oswald — has the best chance of winning the next election has not been top-of-mind. At least not to this point. Yes, each of the three has claimed they are “the” leader who can snatch victory from what appears to be the wide-open mouth of defeat. But not one has done much to handicap his or her opponents’ chances.

That may change in the days to come.

On Monday, Oswald revealed her plan to win the next election. For the most part, Oswald’s war plan was a fairly elegant collection of predictable, populist rallying cries.

Given the chance to lead, Oswald would “engage” the party membership, conduct “outreach” to those Manitobans who have voted NDP in the past and make “readiness” a top priority.

However, tucked deep within a wordy news release was confirmation Michael Balagus, former chief of staff to Selinger, would come back to run her 2016 campaign.

Balagus is a bona fide brand name in NDP politics in Canada at both the provincial and federal level. He was the mastermind behind several Manitoba NDP election campaigns, including the remarkable 2011 vote that saw Selinger win one of the biggest majorities in the provincial party’s history.

 

However, he was unceremoniously forced out of his position by Selinger after that election. At that time, party sources confirmed as respected as Balagus was for his firm campaign management, he and Selinger did not get along during the Doer years. When Selinger became leader, Balagus stayed on, but it was an uncomfortable situation for both men. The breaking point may have come prior to the 2011 election when Balagus was asked by Selinger to share the job of directing the campaign with one of his own loyalists. Balagus refused and even with the positive result, it seemed unlikely the two would work together again.

So it was that just a few months after the 2011 election — in which the NDP came from behind to beat the Tories and increase its majority — that Balagus left Selinger’s service.

The prospect of Balagus’s return should shake things up a bit in this leadership. In particular, it should make some key opinion leaders challenge their assumptions about what Selinger has accomplished to this point.

Selinger loyalists believe strongly that after leading the party to its huge victory in 2011, he has earned the right to lead again in 2016. In bringing Balagus back into the equation, Oswald is clearly reminding New Democrats the chief architect of the 2011 campaign is now working with her. That should cause even some of Selinger’s supporters to think hard on exactly whom they want to drive the campaign bus in 2016.

It’s no secret why Oswald wants to shift the party’s focus to 2016. First, it highlights Oswald’s belief she has, by far and away, the best chance of winning that election. This is based primarily on the observation she is young, telegenic and — perhaps most importantly — not a white-haired man in his late 50s or early 60s, a demographic that captures her two opponents.

However, a focus on 2016 also serves to shift attention away from the fact she played a material role in the mutiny against Selinger. It is often argued the leaders of a political coup are too stained to replace the leader they have brought down. This is Oswald’s burden and may yet prove to be her downfall.

It is easy to see many New Democrats involved in the leadership race have given precious little attention to the issue of which candidate has the best chances of winning the next provincial election. Visceral grudge politics have dominated to this point, with more talk of betrayal and disunity than political marketability.

It’s quite possible whoever “wins” this leadership battle will receive an extended period in opposition as his or her reward. That possibility becomes a certainty if New Democrats worry more about settling grudges than winning elections.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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