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Strategic calculus might lure Selby

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/8/2015 (1681 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRANDON -- It is a political script worthy of Machiavelli, featuring a player who is no stranger to such schemes.

Southdale NDP MLA Erin Selby is being courted by the federal NDP to be the party's candidate in the Saint Boniface-Saint Vital riding. Reports have emerged of polling being done in the riding to ascertain how much support she has, and NDP leader Tom Mulcair has hinted at a pending announcement of a star candidate.

News of a potential Selby candidacy has surprised many political observers. She had a controversy-filled tenure as Manitoba's health minister, and was a founding member of the "Gang of Five" that failed to oust Premier Greg Selinger as provincial NDP leader. She was booted from caucus and exiled to the backbenches.

The odds are bad in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital, where the NDP finished a distant third in the 2011 election, and didn't win a single poll in either of the past two elections. Liberal Dan Vandal, a popular former city councillor for the area, is the front-runner to fill the seat vacated by Conservative Shelly Glover. He is being challenged by Conservative François Catellier and the Green Party's Glenn Zaretski.

Why would Selby consider resigning as an MLA to run in a no-hope federal riding? Why would Mulcair want a candidate with so much political baggage?

She would require a powerful incentive to walk away from her $85,000 annual salary before the next provincial election; perhaps the promise of a cabinet position if she wins and the NDP forms government, or a well-paying patronage appointment if she loses, but the NDP wins. We should assume those promises have or will be made, but their fulfillment is contingent on an NDP victory that is far from guaranteed with seven weeks remaining in the campaign.

As to the NDP's reason for pursuing a candidate with such a controversial political history, there are better potential candidates who likely declined before Selby was asked.

That said, we should view the NDP's pursuit of a high-profile candidate to run in a riding where victory is unlikely as a part of a broader party strategy. The NDP claims its goal is to defeat the Harper Conservatives and form government, but the party's leadership is also committed to ensuring that the Liberal Party remains a weak third party and is ultimately destroyed.

Based on their experiences at the provincial level, most notably in Manitoba, New Democrats know that a de facto two-party system, with a feeble or non-existent centrist alternative, virtually guarantees the NDP would win the majority of elections. The last thing party leadership wants -- and the thing they fear -- is a resurgent Liberal Party capable of eventually shunting the NDP back to third-party irrelevance.

Viewed from that perspective, the motive behind the party's recruitment of a high-profile candidate such as Selby becomes evident. They know they can't win in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital, but they don't want the Liberals to win either. They would rather split the centre-left vote and allow Catellier to prevail.

Beyond that, forcing the Liberals to work harder and spend more money in support of Vandal could make it easier for the NDP to win in Winnipeg Centre, Winnipeg North and Elmwood-Transcona.

It is a strategy that is playing out in several Tory-held ridings throughout the country where Liberal candidates are positioned to win. One example is Winnipeg South Centre, where Liberal Jim Carr is challenging incumbent Joyce Bateman. Another is Toronto's Eglinton-Lawrence riding, where finance minister Joe Oliver is being pushed by Liberal Marco Mendicino.

The NDP candidates in those and other ridings have no hope of winning, but have sufficient profile to make it much more difficult for the Liberal candidates to win.

The scheme may appear both counterintuitive and counterproductive to those who assume the NDP would work with the Liberals to defeat the Harper Conservatives, but it serves the NDP's long-term interests. In this instance, vote-splitting on the left helps the party.

It is the new strategic reality of three parties fighting for power, and likely something we will see more of in coming elections.


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

deverynrossletters@gmail.com Twitter: @deverynross


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