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Harsh words for Selinger

❚ 'People hate you,' MLA tells premier ❚ Frustrated over voters' reactions

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Premier Greg Selinger (right) and Dave Gaudreau share a laugh in 2013. The St. Norbert MLA’s smile has since turned upside down.</p></p><p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Premier Greg Selinger (right) and Dave Gaudreau share a laugh in 2013. The St. Norbert MLA’s smile has since turned upside down.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/2/2016 (658 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Tensions within the Manitoba NDP caucus boiled over this week when a backbench MLA bluntly told the premier “People hate you” and then stormed out of the meeting.

St. Norbert MLA Dave Gaudreau shocked colleagues with the outburst at the noon-hour meeting Wednesday, sources said.

“I found it totally offensive,” one MLA said Friday.

The NDP and its caucus remain fractured following last year’s leadership convention and the defection of five ministers from Greg Selinger’s cabinet in November 2014. But Gastudreau’s harsh remark — so near to the April 19 election — took many aback.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/2/2016 (658 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Tensions within the Manitoba NDP caucus boiled over this week when a backbench MLA bluntly told the premier "People hate you" and then stormed out of the meeting.

St. Norbert MLA Dave Gaudreau shocked colleagues with the outburst at the noon-hour meeting Wednesday, sources said.

"I found it totally offensive," one MLA said Friday.

The NDP and its caucus remain fractured following last year’s leadership convention and the defection of five ministers from Greg Selinger’s cabinet in November 2014. But Gastudreau’s harsh remark — so near to the April 19 election — took many aback.

The caucus meeting was designed to bring MLAs up to speed before the resumption of the legislative session that same afternoon. The legislature hadn’t sat since early December.

Selinger began with a report, and then others took their turns speaking.

When Gaudreau, a first-term MLA who squeaked out a victory by a mere 31 votes in 2011, took the floor, he spoke of his frustration at the reception he was receiving while door-knocking in his constituency. He said he is personally well-received, but he is getting a hard time from voters angry at the premier.

"He was pretty direct about it," a source said. "He said something to the effect of, ‘I’m sorry to say it, Greg, but people hate you. They like me. And I try to tell them they’re not voting for you. They’re voting for me. But it’s not working.’"

Several others who were in the room at the time gave nearly identical versions of the event.

The premier did not initially react.

But an angry government house leader, Dave Chomiak (Kildonan), immediately jumped in, taking Gaudreau to task. Using salty language, Chomiak said he had heard enough sniping in caucus, and Gaudreau’s outburst was not helpful.

Gaudreau, who many believe has an impossible task in retaining his seat against the Tories, became angry at Chomiak’s attempt to silence him. He said caucus should be a place where members can speak the truth. If they can’t, he said, "then F—- it, I’m out of here." And off he went.

When he left, the premier simply said, "Well, that was unfortunate."

And the meeting continued.

On Friday, the Free Press reached out to Gaudreau for a comment. "Our caucus is a place where we talk to each other and sometimes express frustrations. That’s what happened," Gaudreau said in two statements emailed to the Free Press Friday evening.

"I won’t say more; I don’t violate the trust."

Gaudreau had been critical of the five cabinet ministers who broke ranks with Selinger, causing the premier to fight for his leadership. He would go on to support longtime Thompson MLA and cabinet minister Steve Ashton in the March 2015 leadership contest. When Ashton was forced to drop out of the race after the first ballot, Gaudreau threw his support behind Selinger, who won by a mere 33 votes over challenger Theresa Oswald.

Gaudreau isn’t the only NDP MLA who is meeting resistance at constituents’ doorsteps. Others say they are also having a hard time.

One said a fairly universal comment is: "I like you. I think you’ve done good work here. But I hate your leader. I hate your party, and I can’t vote for you this time."

While the NDP is languishing in third place in the polls, the popularity of the premier is even lower. An Angus Reid survey this month pegged his approval rating at 19 per cent.

Despite this, many in the party believe the NDP platform is solid. "People want us to invest in infrastructure. They want us to protect services. But our leader is at 19 per cent," an MLA said. "The problem isn’t the message. It’s the messenger."

While the NDP is attempting to put on a united public front going into the election, it continues to be deeply divided.

A caucus retreat last April at St. Benedict’s Monastery in West St. Paul was billed by the party as a successful healing exercise. MLAs who were once kicked out of caucus have been invited back into the fold. A few of those who were formerly banished are even running for re-election. But sources say the wounds are as raw as ever.

Meanwhile, despite worries over his political future, Gaudreau had at least one reason to feel good about himself as the session resumed this week. He returned to the legislature Thursday to introduce a private member’s bill — banning employers from requesting sick notes until a worker has missed at least seven days in a calendar year — that received considerable media attention, much to the chagrin of some members of the premier’s staff.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Larry Kusch.

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