The disloyalty of Manitoba government MLAs -- including cabinet dissidents and anonymous sources -- is terribly reckless. History shows this kind of backstabbing and public betrayal in party politics rarely ends well.

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This article was published 31/10/2014 (2803 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


The disloyalty of Manitoba government MLAs -- including cabinet dissidents and anonymous sources -- is terribly reckless. History shows this kind of backstabbing and public betrayal in party politics rarely ends well.

We all recall the Paul Martin supporters in the federal Liberal government who got tired of Jean Chrétien's majority-winning ways -- more accurately, they just wanted the keys -- and staged a messy, public coup. Their party has not sniffed power since.

In the 1990s, there was an attempt by some in the Manitoba NDP to oust Gary Doer because he was deemed "unelectable." He went on to win three consecutive majority governments.

The mutiny by veteran NDP activists such as Becky Barrett and Darlene Dziewit is especially bizarre.

They both know, through their long political experience, that loyalty and solidarity are not luxuries to be enjoyed only when times are good. These things matter most -- in fact, we can only really demonstrate them -- when the pressure is on.

Dziewit is a trade unionist and former head of the Manitoba Federation of Labour. Barrett is a former minister of labour. I wonder how they would react if union members chose a crisis such as a strike or lockout to attack and undermine their leaders in public? That is essentially what they did this week, in the face of soft mid-term polling numbers. This is not Solidarity Forever, it is Solidarity Only in Fair Weather. And it is a shame.

Barrett has worked decades for the NDP in Manitoba, including serving as a cabinet minister. Then, on Monday morning, she decided to toss the biggest hand grenade she could find to try to blow up her party -- potentially causing damage on the scale that has kept the Ontario NDP divided since the implosion of the Bob Rae government two decades ago.

It was an awful miscalculation, one that looks even worse because Barrett was Justice Minister Andrew Swan's campaign manager in his failed campaign for the provincial NDP leadership in 2009. (I was spokesman for Greg Selinger in that campaign.) When they attacked the premier earlier this week, they both used the same turns of phrase such as "a referendum on his leadership."

Coincidence? I choose to believe it is. But reasonable people may see Barrett and Swan singing together from the same briefing book and conclude they are co-ordinating their efforts to bring down the premier. And they may think this, in a word, stinks.

Such an error in judgment from the dissidents is especially damning, because their argument against the premier boils down to the claim that they know best. In other words, their superior political intellect mandates them to publicly attack their party's democratically elected leader.

I wonder, did you see any superior political intellect on display this week?

Party activists and cabinet ministers may have legitimate grievances with the premier. They also have legitimate ways to address them.

All parties have a process for reviewing leadership. A minister may even choose to resign from cabinet on a major point of principle.

Anyone unsure about why caucus solidarity is part of the bedrock of parliamentary government needs only to look around. This is why. Whatever trouble the government is really in, a ham-fisted, very public attack on the premier can only make it worse.

Most importantly, Selinger was elected leader democratically by the members of his party and elected premier by the voters of Manitoba. Of course these decisions can be reversed -- but by voters, not by party insiders.

If the points I just made are true -- if it is essential for a party to settle its internal disputes internally -- then this week's events leave everyone in a terrible bind.

What to do? Speak up and risk inflaming the situation? Or try to settle things down publicly. The latter seems to be the decision reached by the so-called Gang of Five, but that truce is not being respected by the premier's unelected critics from within the party.

Those going after the premier's head claim to have the best interest of their party at heart. Of course they say this. Such claims are the hoof-prints of a skittish herd.

Does anyone believe the Manitoba NDP is better off today than it was a week ago when the traitors unsheathed their knives?

If they really do have the best interests of the party at heart, they will stop now before the damage is irreparable.

Todd Scarth is a professor of history at the University of Manitoba. From 2010 to 2013, he was a senior adviser to the Government of Manitoba.