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This article was published 22/7/2016 (1126 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Brian Pallister has a lot of reasons to smile these days.
Pallister has governed the province without significant mistakes for more than three months. In that brief time, he’s delivered a budget and survived his first legislative session, all without major incident. On top of all that, he’s been to Ottawa for a state dinner, hobnobbed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and is currently attending his first Council of the Federation meeting in Whitehorse.
All in all, that’s a pretty nice ride over his first 90 days in office.
Will the good times last? Economies and electorates are fickle, so there’s no assurance Pallister’s next three months will go as smoothly as the last three.
However, one of the things Pallister has going for him is the fact that neither of Manitoba’s opposition parties has provided much in the way of opposition — and may not for some time to come.
The NDP is being steered by well-meaning but underwhelming interim Leader Flor Marcelino until the party can hold a leadership contest in October 2017. Without a marquee leader to rebuild the party’s brand, and burdened by a constant outflow of stories about how badly they managed government over its last term, the remaining NDP MLAs have, in Shakespeare’s words, mustered lots of sound and fury in the legislature that, taken together, have signified nothing.
The Liberals have fared no better. After failing to win her seat, Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari stepped down, with a leadership vote scheduled for next spring. In the interim, the three Grit MLAs have struggled mightily to make an impression of any kind in their work in the legislature.
Anyone wanting to debate the value of political leadership will have found the last three months an interesting study. Without permanent leadership, both parties have been ineffective in holding a new Tory government to task. This is particularly frustrating for some longtime Liberals and New Democrats because Pallister has, from time to time, provided some ammunition for effective opposition attacks.
Given their current state of being, you would think both parties would be in a rush to get new leaders in place. You would be wrong. Neither party appears to be keen to pick a new leader. This is a reflection of two sobering facts. First, both parties need time to raise money that might be needed to pay a stipend to a new leader until he or she can win a byelection and take a seat in the legislature.
Second, the possibility there just aren’t many people who are willing, at this stage, to step up and take on the job.
Thus, we see both parties trying to balance out the urgent need for fresh leadership with the equally important need to avoid the humiliation of launching a leadership campaign that can’t draw flies.
The rumour mill for each party suggests potential leadership candidates are keeping their cards close to their vests.
Veteran Liberals are doubtful the caucus will produce a viable leadership candidate. Former leader Jon Gerrard is a non-starter; rookies Cindy Lamoureux and Judy Klassen are still learning their craft. That likely means the next leader will come from the ranks of the unelected, a scenario that was problematic for Bokhari.
Topping many lists of possible leadership candidates is Sachit Mehra, owner of the popular East India Company restaurants and a former chairman of the Downtown BIZ. Mehra is Manitoba’s representative on the federal Liberal party’s board of directors. Although he was not heavily involved in the last provincial campaign, there is hope among some Grit faithful he can be convinced to make a leadership bid.
Other names being floated in Grit circles include former leadership candidate Dougald Lamont, former Liberal candidate Noel Bernier and possibly Karen Taraska-Alcock, a candidate for the federal Liberal nomination in Winnipeg South Centre and widow of federal Liberal cabinet minister Reg Alcock.
On the NDP side of the opposition equation, all eyes are firmly fixed on Kevin Chief.
The personable MLA and former cabinet minister is, in most minds, the heir apparent to former leader and premier Greg Selinger. He avoided becoming too deeply embroiled in the cabinet coup that tried to force Selinger out of his job. As well, he has a broad and intimate network of supporters in Manitoba that cuts across party lines.
Chief could not be reached for comment, but party sources say he has not yet determined his future. As a result, many other potential candidates are left in limbo. These candidates include MLAs Wab Kinew, James Allum, Matt Wiebe and Nahanni Fontaine.
NDP conspiracy theorists continue to believe former cabinet minister Steve Ashton, who suffered a shocking loss in the April election, will rise from the ashes to make what would be his third bid to lead the party. Others believe Ashton, dogged by allegations of conflict of interest, will instead throw his considerable organizational support behind another candidate. Wolseley MLA Rob Altemeyer has been rumoured to be a possible Ashton project. As well, many New Democrats believe Ashton’s daughter, federal NDP MP Niki Ashton, will make a jump to provincial politics.
Outside some of these usual suspects, there are some others kicking tires on the NDP leadership. Among those is Winnipeg city Coun. Brian Mayes. Like other potential candidates, Mayes said he would be very interested in throwing his hat in the ring if — and it’s a big if — Chief does not.
"I think it’s Kevin Chief’s job if he wants it," Mayes said. "And I hope he runs. If he decides he doesn’t want it, then it’s something I’d look at."
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.