October 20, 2018

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Opinion

Selinger's shuffle making the best of a bad situation

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/4/2015 (1270 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With relatively small changes, Premier Greg Selinger’s cabinet shuffle managed to produce a whole lot of news.

Selinger bid adieu to a veteran minister retiring from politics (Peter Bjornson), squeezed in two new faces (Mohinder Saran and Tom Nevakshonoff), adjusted the duties of two others (James Allum and Gord Mackintosh), welcomed back one leadership rival (Steve Ashton) and gave one of the mutineers from last fall’s uprising (Theresa Oswald) a chance to return to cabinet. She turned him down.

The shuffle rewarded loyalists, buried some hatchets and even offered an olive branch to one of those who sparked the civil war that nearly cost Selinger his job.

And yet, this shuffle is only making the best of a bad situation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/4/2015 (1270 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With relatively small changes, Premier Greg Selinger’s cabinet shuffle managed to produce a whole lot of news.

Selinger bid adieu to a veteran minister retiring from politics (Peter Bjornson), squeezed in two new faces (Mohinder Saran and Tom Nevakshonoff), adjusted the duties of two others (James Allum and Gord Mackintosh), welcomed back one leadership rival (Steve Ashton) and gave one of the mutineers from last fall’s uprising (Theresa Oswald) a chance to return to cabinet. She turned him down.

The shuffle rewarded loyalists, buried some hatchets and even offered an olive branch to one of those who sparked the civil war that nearly cost Selinger his job.

And yet, this shuffle is only making the best of a bad situation.

Selinger is doing his utmost to present a united front, less than six weeks after he was forced to defend his leadership at a party convention. He won that vote, but was left with a party that was, and remains, deeply divided. The cabinet shuffle was more proof of that fact.

Inviting Ashton back into cabinet was a good decision by Selinger. The Thompson MLA, the longest serving elected official in the legislature, steered clear of any direct involvement in the mutiny that sparked the leadership crisis. Once he was eliminated on the first ballot, he did not pledge his support to either Selinger or Oswald.

Even so, his return to cabinet will gall some in the NDP caucus, who believe that Ashton’s ambitions will ultimately cause more problems for the party. Almost everyone in the NDP universe believes that Ashton remains in a cat-like state of readiness, prepared to leap at another chance to lead the party. Should Selinger stumble in the April 2016 election, and the NDP be booted from power, you can bet Ashton will be there offering to lead the party back to glory.

The premier also invited longtime backbencher Tom Nevakshonoff, MLA for the Interlake, to serve as Minister of Conservation and Water Stewardship. Along with Ashton, this appointment should quiet hostilities on one of the two fronts that Selinger faced during the leadership.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

And then there was Mohinder Saran, the MLA from the Maples who on Wednesday became the first Indo-Canadian minister in Manitoba history. When invited to swear his oath as a member of executive council, Saran received a standing ovation led by a large contingent of Indo-Canadian supporters.

It is not a stretch to say that Saran, MLA for a riding that has consistently produced among the biggest party delegate totals, has done more to help Selinger win and retain his post as premier than any other MLA. His appointment is a clear win for hard-core Selinger supporters and for the politically potent Indo-Canadian community in north Winnipeg.

However, there are net political losses in the shuffle as well.

Offering Oswald a route back into cabinet was the right thing to do, but it is also likely that Selinger is relieved she declined. Her return to cabinet would have been awkward and uncomfortable. Not impossible, but clearly something that would require time to fully integrate.

Having declined a chance to return, it seems more and more likely that Oswald will not be a candidate for the NDP in 2016. That is a huge problem for the NDP given that her seat, Seine River, is considered ripe for the picking by the Progressive Conservatives. Even after failing to unseat Selinger, Oswald is a formidable MLA who would put up quite a fight with the Tories.

If Oswald steps down, Selinger is suddenly looking at a 2016 election team running new faces in a number of key swing ridings. Consider that he has already lost Nancy Allan in St. Vital, Jim Rondeau in Assiniboia and the aforementioned Bjornson in Gimli. All three of those seats are considered winnable with the NDP languishing well behind the PCs in the polls.

And the roster of retiring MLAs could grow over the next year. Five other former ministers or MLAs publicly protested Selinger’s leadership. Two of them — Stan Struthers in Dauphin and Erin Selby in Southdale — have been very evasive about whether they will run again. Both ridings are certain Tory targets in the next election.

There is every indication that with this shuffle, Selinger has made genuine efforts to heal some of the wounds left over from the leadership crisis. And there are many indications that despite those efforts, this party cannot be healed in time for the 2016 election.

The cabinet shuffle only served to highlight the deep chasms between NDP caucus factions. And the fact that there aren’t enough olive branches to build bridges between them.

With his latest cabinet shuffle, likely the last shuffle before the next election, Selinger made the best out of a bad situation. But it’s still a bad situation.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

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