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This article was published 11/3/2015 (2089 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

The messy civil war that has ravaged the NDP during the last five months was supposed to be over the moment a winner was declared in last weekend's leadership vote.

That winner, Premier Greg Selinger, addressed the delegates and talked about how he wanted to get past the internal discord that saw him forced to fight for his job against two of his former cabinet ministers. He spoke of unity among the NDP "family."

And yet, less than 24 hours after those words were uttered, it appears the war is far from over.

Concerns abound that Selinger may be looking to expel some of the MLAs, ministers and staff who opposed him at the convention. Three senior political staffers were fired Monday. The fate of others who sought to replace Selinger is in limbo, and the premier has done little to diminish worries more terminations are coming.

Beyond that, questions continue to be raised about deals that were done to gain the support Selinger needed to score a razor-thin, 33-vote victory over rival Theresa Oswald.

Specifically, the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union alleged Monday that Health Minister Sharon Blady and Heather Grant-Jury, Selinger's chief of staff, struck a deal with United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest to secure the support of about two dozen delegates. In exchange for that support, the MGEU alleged Forrest was promised the governing party would quash a bid by the Paramedics Association of Manitoba to become a self-regulating profession under the Regulated Health Professionals Act.

The battle between firefighters and paramedics is inexplicable to outsiders, but in essence neither group likes the other very much. And both groups want to control the rules governing the provision of paramedical services.

Monday, Selinger commented on the allegations Monday, stating that to his knowledge, no quid pro quo was offered to Forrest and the UFFW.

On Tuesday, Forrest denied he sought anything for the support of his delegates, or that anything was offered. He also denied he offered to support Oswald on the second ballot.

Blady also spoke to reporters about the allegations, confirming she had spoken to Forrest during the convention, but denying she offered anything for his support. "Absolutely not," Blady said Tuesday afternoon.

Did a government minister trade consideration on a legal matter in exchange for delegate support? That will be a hard allegation to prove. What seems more certain is the UFFW did appear poised to support Oswald, but for some reason shifted to support Selinger.

Just prior to the release of the first ballot results, Oswald's campaign confirmed they were going to be second and they had secured the support of two unions for the second ballot: the UFFW and the United Steelworkers.

Michael Balagus, former chief of staff to Selinger and an Oswald supporter, said he talked with Forrest several times on the weekend about what would happen to UFFW support if its chosen candidate, Steve Ashton, was the odd man out. Balagus said each time, Forrest confirmed he would move to Oswald. Forrest did not ask anything for his support, Balagus added.

Balagus's concern about Forrest's resolve peaked just before first ballot results were made known. Oswald supporters spotted Forrest deep in conversation with Blady and Grant-Jury, sending a number of those supporters off in search of the firefighters' leader. Unfortunately, the next time Balagus saw Forrest was when he made it clear he was pledging support to Selinger.

"I went up to him, just as we agreed and he told me he had changed his mind because he thought Theresa was too close to the paramedics," Balagus said.

It deserves to be said there is no concrete proof a specific deal -- delegate support for a government decision -- was sought or offered. However, there is abundant evidence Forrest and the UFFW, at the very least, were promising to support more than one leadership candidate on the second ballot. Even in the morally challenged world of internal party politics, that is a pretty diabolical strategy.

Forrest's denials will be viewed by many with skepticism because during his political career, he has shown a propensity to change political stripes and allegiances with alarming regularity. Although the UFFW has proven to be a great ally during election campaigns, that support comes with a price, as Selinger is surely finding out now.

Now the premier's pact with the UFFW is fodder for Tory Leader Brian Pallister in his bid to topple the NDP. According to Pallister, Selinger is allowing a union to direct government business, hardly the image the NDP wants to project going into an election next year. Forrest's support for Selinger is turning out to be a gift for the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives. A gift that will keep on giving.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Have their recent actions damaged the firefighters’ image as heroic rescuers? Join the conversation in the comments below.

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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