November 22, 2019

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Opinion

What's he got up his sleeve?

Three theories as to why Doer's bowing out now

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/8/2009 (3738 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/8/2009 (3738 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Gary Doer and his wife, Ginny Devine, share a laugh during the news conference as he announces his departure from the premier's office.

MIKE DEAL/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Gary Doer and his wife, Ginny Devine, share a laugh during the news conference as he announces his departure from the premier's office.

Of all the questions asked Thursday in the wake of Premier Gary Doer's resignation, 'why' was probably the most important and intriguing.

As a 61-year-old political veteran with three majorities under his belt, perhaps Doer has accomplished as much as any one politician has a right to expect and realizes it's time to move on.

However, despite the miles he's travelled, Doer remains immensely popular and his party is entirely competitive. If he had remained to run in the next provincial election, there is plenty of evidence to suggest he had more than a decent shot to win another majority.

So, once again we are left to ask why? There are three theories to consider.

The first theory is that Doer really wants to leave politics on top of his game. A corollary to that theory is that he also wants to avoid an impending scandal that he fears may erupt and stain his legacy.

The second theory is that he timed his departure to give the party the best chance to find a new leader before the next election.

And third, he's leaving now because he has been offered another job that is too good to pass up, and must be filled sooner rather than later.

On the first theory, Doer made it abundantly clear in a news conference Thursday that he puts a high price on leaving politics on his terms — and with his boots on. He did not mention him by name, but Doer no doubt still remembers that former premier Gary Filmon had to announce his resignation on election night in 1999 when he failed to win his fourth election.

With 11 years in power, Filmon had a remarkable record of success. However, the last image we had of the elegant Tory premier — a sombre Filmon sitting in the back row of the government benches after relinquishing the helm — seemed at odds with what everyone knew he had accomplished.

There will also be speculation that Doer is simply getting out before some simmering scandal boils over and sinks him. In the coming months, the NDP government will face tough challenges, including the 1999 election-financing flap, a coroner's inquest into the death of a homeless man who went unattended for 36 hours in a hospital emergency room, and last but certainly not least, a review by the auditor general of Manitoba Hydro's deepest, darkest secrets.

The howling class will build all kinds of conspiracy theories about Doer getting out while the getting was good. But even with all these issues out in the public realm, he remains as popular as he ever was. That might have changed if he'd stayed on, but it seems unlikely.

On the second theory — that this was about the best interests of the party — Doer mentioned several times during his news conference that he wanted to do what was best for the party, and give his successor time to prepare for the next election in 2011. What he meant by that is not clear; there is no consensus among political strategists on the best time to elect a new leader.

Some believe it is better to elect a leader well in advance of an election to provide the opportunity for bonding with the electorate. Others believe it is better to wait until the last moment, to get a bounce from the convention.

If Doer falls into either the go-now or go-later camps, he's not letting on. He was particularly circumspect about when he will actually leave office and whether he will stay until a new leader is chosen, or step aside for an interim leader.

As for the third theory, Doer was especially evasive about what if anything he would do after leaving the premier's office. Some have speculated he wants to replace federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, but as a Westerner in his early 60s who can't speak French, it's a long shot.

A most persistent rumour sees him being appointed as the next Canadian ambassador to the United States. At first blush it might seem untenable, but digging deeper there is a lot of evidence to support the theory.

First, it appears Prime Minister Stephen Harper is waiting for something or someone to replace current ambassador Michael Wilson. The former Tory finance minister celebrated his third anniversary in Washington last February and three years is the upper end for diplomatic postings. Ottawa sources confirmed that plans are underway for a Wilson farewell bash. There were rumours Harper was going to tap either former Tory foreign affairs minister David Emerson or former clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch for the post. However, neither Emerson (who did not run in last fall's election) nor Lynch (who resigned his post in May) is in Washington picking out new wallpaper for the ambassador's residence. What or who is Harper waiting for?

More importantly, Doer and Harper have a great working relationship, at least as good as an NDP premier and Conservative prime minister can have. Add to that the fact that Doer has a remarkable network of contacts throughout the U.S. that include political opinion leaders of all partisan stripes.

In trade and cultural missions, and through regional summits, Doer has become a favourite of Democratic and Republican governors alike.

The only thing that is certain is that it will not take long for Doer to reveal his next great challenge. Doer seems to have an almost inexhaustible energy for his work and quite frankly, it is inconceivable to think of him doing nothing for a month or two after leaving the premier's office.

Why did he leave now? It could have been fatigue, a favour to the party or as a result of his sense of self preservation. All we know for sure is that Gary Doer is the only one who knows for sure and in keeping with his infamously close-to-the-vest methodology, he's not telling.

Let the speculation begin.

 

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

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