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This article was published 25/1/2019 (921 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With MLA Andrew Swan’s announcement that he is leaving the Manitoba legislature, the provincial New Democratic Party has officially entered the next phase in its long and painful rebuilding process.
A former attorney general and justice minister, Mr. Swan decided his future political fortunes may lie in Ottawa. This past week, he confirmed he will contest the NDP nomination in the federal riding of Winnipeg Centre. He joins educator and activist Leah Gazan, who is also seeking the nomination.
However, while Mr. Swan seeks a federal seat, he leaves a provincial party that is continuing to demonstrate that it has not yet hit rock bottom.
The past 33 months since the NDP was soundly defeated in the 2016 provincial election have been a nearly constant string of setbacks and humiliations.
The NDP was forced to expel Maples MLA Mohinder Saran over allegations of sexual harassment. Then, the party had to explain why it took no action to curb former cabinet minister Stan Struthers after he, too, was accused of sexual misconduct.
Finally, following the retirement of former leader and premier Greg Selinger, the NDP lost its long-held seat in St. Boniface to Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont in a byelection.
Through all this turmoil, the NDP’s performance in the legislature has been capable but inconsistent and — of greater concern — uninspiring.
It’s no wonder, then, that several veteran MLAs have decided to retire or seek political opportunities elsewhere. Joining Mr. Swan (Minto) in the ranks of the soon-to-be-departed are Rob Altemeyer (Wolseley) and James Allum (Fort Garry-Riverview). There is speculation that MLAs Flor Marcelino (Logan) and Ted Marcelino (Tyndall Park) might also leave.
If all those sitting members of the Opposition caucus were to leave, it would mean the NDP will have lost half of the 14 MLAs it had following in the 2016 election.
If there is any good news in this sad state of affairs, it is that losing veteran politicians, and political aides for that matter, is a natural stage in the rebuilding of any political party. After being rejected by voters, most parties with an appetite to one day return to power understand that they must shed the old personalities and strategies and chart a new course with new people.
The task now for NDP Leader Wab Kinew is to ensure that he finds those people, and quickly, so his party does not retreat any further.
Former premier Gary Doer managed to last 11 years as Opposition leader, chiefly by ensuring that in each election, he emerged with more seats than he had held going in. That slow and steady progress allowed him to build profile and support among voters so that, in 1999, he could finally seize the moment and return his party to government.
If he is to have any future as leader, and more particularly as premier, Mr. Kinew must pull off a similar trick. He must find new candidates with haste in order to have a fighting chance to win at least as many seats in the 2020 election as he had following the 2016 election.
Mr. Swan’s decision to leave provincial politics is, all things considered, quite understandable. But it has nonetheless made Mr. Kinew’s path back to power a little steeper, a little longer and decidedly more perilous.