February 21, 2018

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Opinion

Public, party have spoken, but Selinger not listening

Say what you want about former NDP premier Greg Selinger, but he isn't a stupid man.

Throughout his decades as an elected public servant — a career that began at Winnipeg city hall and culminated in the Manitoba legislature — Selinger proved himself to be capable, intelligent and well-versed in the issues and operations of government.

However, in recent years, Selinger has also shown himself to be incredibly stubborn to the point of delusion.

Selinger refused to step down before the 2016 election, despite being told by just about every caucus colleague and senior adviser that his party could not win with him at the helm. He continued to cling to his job, even after five of his own ministers broke rank and publicly asked him to step down. After the election, when most vanquished leaders fade into the background, he stubbornly insisted on keeping his seat.

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Say what you want about former NDP premier Greg Selinger, but he isn't a stupid man.

Throughout his decades as an elected public servant — a career that began at Winnipeg city hall and culminated in the Manitoba legislature — Selinger proved himself to be capable, intelligent and well-versed in the issues and operations of government.

However, in recent years, Selinger has also shown himself to be incredibly stubborn to the point of delusion.

Selinger refused to step down before the 2016 election, despite being told by just about every caucus colleague and senior adviser that his party could not win with him at the helm. He continued to cling to his job, even after five of his own ministers broke rank and publicly asked him to step down. After the election, when most vanquished leaders fade into the background, he stubbornly insisted on keeping his seat.

All of which makes the events of this week a lot easier to understand.

During the noon-hour Tuesday, in his tiny cinder-block constituency office in St. Boniface, Selinger faced reporters to express his regret over allegations that one of his cabinet ministers — Stan Struthers — had sexually harassed several female staffers. All on Selinger's watch.

Sporting a blue corduroy suit and open dress shirt, Selinger calmly read from a prepared statement in which he unequivocally apologized to the women who came forward recently to detail Struthers' behaviour. As the leader at the time, he accepted full responsibility and pledged his support to efforts that would make it easier for women in politics and government to bring their concerns forward.

Selinger also acknowledged that current NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked him not to hold a news conference, and to resign his seat in the legislature. To both requests, Selinger said no, claiming it would be disrespectful to the people who helped him get elected in St. Boniface if he left now.

The democratic process, Selinger noted, needs to be respected. And as far as he is concerned, both his riding association and his constituents want him to stay.

As Selinger explained his rationale for staying, there were no obvious signs of stress. No perspiration on his upper lip. No wavering voice. No shaking hands. He appeared much as he has always appeared, the very picture of confidence. And let it be said that confidence is an essential ingredient for politics, and in particular, political leadership.

However, it takes a special kind of confidence to walk deliberately down the middle of railway tracks into the path of an oncoming train and question the legitimacy of the train.

For all his apologies and regret, Selinger seems unable to grasp the peril that surrounds him on this issue.

John Woods / The Canadian Press Files</p><p>Former Manitoba remier Greg Selinger is capable, intelligent and well-versed in the issues and operations of government, but has shown himself to be incredibly stubborn to the point of delusion.</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press Files

Former Manitoba remier Greg Selinger is capable, intelligent and well-versed in the issues and operations of government, but has shown himself to be incredibly stubborn to the point of delusion.

As former leader, he has accepted the ultimate responsibility for his party's failure to act on the allegations against Struthers. But at the same time, he has refused to show accountability by stepping down.

A resignation would be a purely symbolic act now, many years after the incidents in question took place. But it is the price that political leaders pay when they acknowledge a failure to execute the duties of their offices.

Everywhere, it seems, but in Selinger's world.

This refusal to acknowledge reality is even more difficult to understand in the #MeToo era, where there are swift and severe consequences for anyone who engaged in sexual harassment, and anyone who knew there was a problem and failed to act.

In the current social environment, there is little room for, "I'm really sorry, but it shouldn't cost me my job."

Selinger was premier when a female communications staffer alleged in 2011 she was groped by Struthers during a flight aboard a small plane. The staffer said she brought the incident to the attention of her supervisor, who claimed he took it to his superior who claimed he was never alerted about what happened. The result was that nothing was ever done.

Selinger said at no time did anyone from his government bring the incident to his attention. Two complaints against Struthers did surface in 2015 but the women involved did not want to pursue them officially. Struthers was warned to change his behaviour.

The bottom line is that the then-governing party of Manitoba failed to act on multiple incidents of abhorrent behaviour involving a senior cabinet minister. The rules of political leadership demand that, as leader at the time of the alleged incidents, Selinger must make a more profound gesture of accountability.

It should be noted that there isn't much left of the Selinger administration to punish. Drubbed in the last election and reduced to just a dozen seats, the NDP is a shell of its former self. Although recent poll results have shown the NDP competing head-to-head with the ruling Progressive Conservatives in Winnipeg, few political pundits see a major breakthrough brewing in the 2020 election.

Kinew acknowledged recently that the NDP "did not deserve to win the last election." It was largely interpreted as his attempt to formally sever his leadership from the legacy of the Selinger government.

On Tuesday, Selinger was asked whether he agreed with that statement.

The former premier explained that when it comes to the tenure of any government, the will of the electorate is paramount. "At the end of the day, it's the people that make the final decisions on these matters."

What seems to have escaped Selinger is that when it comes to his continued presence in politics, the public has spoken. And they do not want him to stay.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Dan Lett.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 5:21 PM CST: Updates video

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