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This article was published 21/1/2019 (570 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The political picture in Manitoba is more clear than ever.
Late Sunday, 15-year MLA and former Manitoba justice minister Andrew Swan announced he would seek the NDP nomination in the federal riding of Winnipeg Centre. Swan will be competing against Leah Gazan, a longtime community organizer and advocate for women’s and Indigenous issues, who had announced her candidacy 48 hours earlier.
According to some pundits, Swan’s departure represents another crack in the foundation of the Manitoba NDP.
If one just went by departures, things look dire.
In December, former education minister James Allum announced he would not seek re-election, joining longtime NDP MLA Rob Altemeyer, who also announced last year he wouldn’t run again. Rumours abound that Ted Marcelino and Flor Marcelino may not run either, which would leave Jim Maloway and Matt Wiebe as the NDP’s most experienced MLAs.
The party has spent a year mostly in damage control. It had to deal with sexual misconduct allegations against former cabinet minister Stan Struthers, an internal review that found a sexist and misogynist "old boys' network" infected the party from 1999-2016, and repeated questions about NDP Leader Wab Kinew’s past legal troubles.
It added up to consistent polls showing the party around 14 points behind the Conservatives.
However, rumours of the NDP’s demise may be exaggerated.
The No. 1 thing that led to the provincial NDP’s downfall? Then-premier Greg Selinger’s bungling of the PST increase is up there, of course, but nothing matches the 2014 "Gang of Five" revolt, when five cabinet ministers resigned their posts and openly called for Selinger to step down.
The provincial NDP, as a body and electorate, has never recovered from that split -- and the cracks are still deep and enduring.
Who remains from those five? Swan. Everyone else is gone.
It may just be that the NDP couldn’t move on until Swan did. And he now sees an opportunity.
Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette’s hold on Winnipeg Centre is tenuous, and he has openly irritated the electoral base that has been with him since his failed mayoral run in Winnipeg in 2014.
Ouellette’s antics have come off as more self-promotion than anything else. Since being elected in 2015, he has publicly rallied to be appointed Speaker of the House (which would involve virtually abandoning his riding), posted selfies of performing a pipe ceremony on Parliament Hill grounds, and defended farmers who "have the feeling that their property is not respected" after Gerald Stanley was found not guilty of murder in the 2016 death of Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan.
Ouellette’s seat in Parliament is vulnerable, and the federal NDP has been contacting potential candidates for months. Now, it has two strong and experienced political candidates ready to take up the challenge.
Swan also has nowhere else to go politically. His provincial constituency, Minto, is being revamped due to electoral boundary changes. He knows his time in the provincial NDP has a shelf life. He also has grown children in university and the flexibility to run federally.
Swan’s departure is more a statement about his situation (and perhaps the vulnerability of Ouellette) than the Manitoba NDP.
(Besides, if Swan had suspicions the provincial party was fading, he made a weird choice: the federal NDP is a mess. They sit in distant third place and have a leader, Jagmeet Singh, who faces a significant uphill battle in a B.C. byelection next month to get a seat, and remains relatively unknown to Canadians.)
The Manitoba NDP, meanwhile, is going through a rebranding. By the time the next election comes around (2020), it may boast a new slate of political faces.
Kinew’s leadership is two years old, and while he hasn’t been able to move the party publicly, signs are he may be moving the party internally.
One provincial NDP insider told me the party had a record fundraising month in December, unseen "since the days of Gary Doer." There are also new recruits, including a rumour the founder of QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Colour) Winnipeg, psychiatric nurse and activist Uzoma Asagwara may enter the fray.
With the departure of Swan, NDP leadership is a collective of 40-ish, mostly urban-based, largely women and Indigenous, and eager to separate themselves from the party’s past.
Comparatively, the Conservatives are virtually a one-man leadership show, older, mostly rural-based, largely male and white -- and eager to embody traditional values and moral issues. The party runs primarily on the predictable reputation of Brian Pallister, for the good, the bad, and everything in between.
For the most part, this formula has worked. One party is aging though, and the other is just beginning.
The Liberals, in the meantime, are as enigmatic as their leader, Dougald Lamont. They have momentum (winning St. Boniface, a constituency previously held by Selinger) and official party status for the first time in more than 20 years.
The Liberals show promise, but how many times have we heard this before? Perhaps uncertainty is the forever state of the Manitoba Liberal Party?
Manitoba politics are clearer than ever, and it took Andrew Swan to show us.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 6:40 AM CST: Corrects typo
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