If there was a moment when the NDP first saw things going its way, it was midway through the campaign when Premier Greg Selinger and the Winnipeg Jets' Mark Chipman said they'd be partners to help at-risk kids.

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This article was published 4/10/2011 (3669 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If there was a moment when the NDP first saw things going its way, it was midway through the campaign when Premier Greg Selinger and the Winnipeg Jets' Mark Chipman said they'd be partners to help at-risk kids.

There was some sniping the NDP was using the Jets to unfairly boost its re-election chances and the news conference itself smacked of a government announcement, not an election promise.

John Woods / the canadian press
Premier Greg Selinger casts his ballot on Tuesday.

CP

John Woods / the canadian press Premier Greg Selinger casts his ballot on Tuesday.

The NDP war room instead focused on the big picture.

"Any time you can get Greg and Mark Chipman together on the front page, it's good no matter what the story is," an NDP insider said.

It was also that moment when the NDP started looking forward instead of worrying what was in the rear-view mirror. And the distance between the New Democrats and the Progressive Conservatives only widened in the coming days.

"We were worried about their crime platform," the insider said. "But when we saw it, we wondered, 'Is this it? This is the best they can do?' "

Just days earlier, the NDP thought it had found some traction in its pledge to guarantee Manitobans would continue to pay the lowest combined bill in Canada for electricity, home heating and auto insurance -- or get a cheque in the mail from the offending utility.

But it was fleeting -- it took the Jets to put the puck in the net, so to speak.

That momentum picked up two days later when Selinger promised the NDP would eliminate the school tax for seniors and eliminate the education tax on all Manitoba farmland.

The move caught the Tories somewhat by surprise. At the same time, the NDP was talking millions in tax cuts, the PCs were promising to spend $150,000 on a new website to guide Manitoba families through the health-care system, specifying such things as patient wait times, bed availability and other services such as home care. Not a bad idea, but it's not a tax cut.

Back in the NDP war room, a tingling in campaign manager Michael Balagus's stomach told him the NDP was on its way to winning a fourth term in office.

But he kept that tingling to himself. It was best to stay focused on the campaign plan and keep everyone working hard right up until the last ballot was counted.

For Balagus, the campaign started the day former premier Gary Doer stepped down two years ago to become Canada's ambassador to the United States. Balagus said Selinger knew back then, in the lead-up to being crowned premier Oct. 19, 2009, that he had no choice but to change his skin, from a tall-foreheaded policy wonk to someone who could work any room.

"I understand when he ran for leader he had some people working with him on his technique of delivering speeches and stuff like that," Balagus said. "But we have not had media experts coming in doing massive amounts of training. A lot of it was just more experience."

The timing of Selinger's ascension to the premier's chair couldn't have been worse.

With the election just two years away, Manitoba and the rest of the world were heading into a recession. Doer, the NDP's biggest asset, was gone, rubbing shoulders with Washington's political elite and Selinger was running the ship. The challenge facing the NDP in the transition was that voters did not know Greg Selinger. Doer was the face of the party; Selinger was that other guy.

That had to change. Fast.

Selinger had to be defined or framed by the NDP as the new leader of the province. And it had to be done before the Opposition Progressive Conservatives did it for them. The fear was Selinger would be ridiculed in the same way the federal Conservatives went after Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and later, Michael Ignatieff.

That meant sending Selinger out on dozens -- it felt like hundreds -- of routine government announcements instead of using a cabinet minister or MLA. Selinger cut more ribbons and turned more sod than any other premier in the last two years.

"That was more the effort," Balagus said. "We had a very short period of time for Manitobans to get to know him, so we definitely put him out on a lot more announcements than a premier normally would do."

Then came the 2011 flood. The NDP, at first, used it to catapult Selinger even further into the public consciousness. As early as the Grey Cup in November 2010, the NDP was already ramping up the flood fight with Selinger's face in the viewfinder.

The thinking then, before the water came, was this was the perfect opportunity to showcase Selinger's leadership in preparing the province for the possibility of a bad spring flood. The thinking then, before the water came, was that even if flooding wasn't bad, the NDP could still claim a victory as it, with Selinger at the helm, was prepared for the worst.

But it was the week leading up to May 13 that put Selinger on the national stage. The province readied itself to deliberately flood properties south of Portage la Prairie to reduce the risk of dikes bursting along the Assiniboine River and flooding hundreds more homes. On May 13, Selinger took the rare step of addressing the province on television, explaining what had to be done at Hoop and Holler bend.

The result of that appearance, and the many others he made during the flood fight, quickly boosted his approval rating. Pollster Angus Reid most recently found Selinger had one of the highest approval ratings among Canada's premiers. Just months earlier, his approval rating was 34 per cent.

By May, it had climbed to 48 per cent. In early September it was 52 per cent, good for third place, behind Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall (63 per cent) and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale (58 per cent).

Selinger summed it up during his victory speech at the convention centre Tuesday night:

"Today, Manitobans went to the ballot box and they voted for optimism. They voted for a better future for Manitobans. We can make prosperity better in this province."

At most campaign stops, announcements and speeches, Selinger rarely used speaking notes -- everything he said he said from memory and his knowledge of the topic. It meant he was always looking at his audience or the camera, not glancing down to check notes.

Balagus said Selinger did not need much help in getting prepped for the rigours of campaigning or dealing with the questions that sometimes come out of nowhere.

"I would say we spent no more time in the run-up to or during this election with him on media training, debate-training, etc., than we did with Gary. We always did stuff with Gary in the run-up and during an election. It was a lot more as a refresher because he had a lot more experience, but not a whole lot more time."

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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