Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/3/2016 (2041 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NDP Leader Greg Selinger is one stubborn politician. That may be viewed as a positive trait, particularly if that stubbornness speaks to a commitment to do what’s right. But it can also be viewed negatively, particularly when the stubbornness gets in the way of doing what’s right for survival.
Selinger almost won the mayoral contest in 1992 when he faced off against Susan Thompson. Political observers suggested his refusal on principle to accept union and corporate donations got in his way of a win. The better-funded businesswoman won with 39 per cent of the vote. Selinger came in second with almost 33 per cent. It’s a laudable principle to take that stand and, given Selinger’s activist background, perhaps not unexpected, but it’s an example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
In an interview with Free Press columnist Dan Lett in 2009, Selinger acknowledged that not accepting the large cheques cost him. However, he said he would do it again: "Even with the decision, we were rising towards the end of the campaign. It was like (former Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback) Ron Lancaster said: ‘We didn’t lose, we just ran out of time.’"
Um, no Greg, you lost.
But his response underscores just how intransigent the man is.
Fast forward to the April Fool’s Day surprise of a one-point increase in the PST, which Selinger sprung on his cabinet ministers and his caucus and was a complete flip-flop from his 2011 campaign promise he would not increase taxes. With that decision, there appeared to be no plan. There appeared to be no communication strategy. Instead, NDP MLAs found out about it a few hours before then-finance minister Stan Struthers tabled the budget.
The backlash was formidable.
There was outrage the increase was made without a referendum, a requirement under law. There was more outrage the government introduced Bill 20 to waive that requirement. More anger that the hike went into effect prior to that bill even taking effect. Selinger was so unpopular, he was booed at public events.
But he remained resolute, despite polling numbers showing the party was in what one pollster termed "annihilation territory." He would not back down.
This fuelled the cabinet revolt, with the so-called Gang of Five calling on the premier to step down. Again, Selinger refused to budge, staying in place but calling for a leadership review. He then had the temerity to stay on as leader, while the leadership contest was on, resulting in more concerns. Sure, it was legal, but was it ethical? Some felt he had an unfair advantage because he could control the agenda from the inside, but he dismissed those concerns, insisting he could keep the two jobs separate. Run for leader at night, serve as leader by day.
At his campaign headquarters opening in January 2015, Selinger promoted the PST increase as a sign of strength rather than a political liability. Against all evidence, he remained steadfast in his claims.
Selinger won by just 33 votes against Theresa Oswald. Again, there were concerns the tight vote was indicative of a lack of support. Again, Selinger was staying on.
In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Selinger admitted he did consider stepping down after the caucus revolt. However he decided to stay, advised by his supporters to stick it out and fight. In a meeting with the Free Press editorial board, he would only admit mistakes were made.
Last week, Selinger’s stubbornness was in full display. Homophobic, violent and misogynistic language in music and social media from the NDP’s star candidate for Fort Rouge, Wab Kinew, came to light. Some of these Kinew had apologized for in his newly released book. Others, he apologized for in two news conferences with Selinger by his side. Despite calls Kinew should resign, Selinger remained firm in his support, telling the editorial board Kinew has saved lives. When pressed, he stood by the hyperbole.
Sometimes stubbornness makes sense — it’s a way of championing against the tyranny of the majority. A good leader knows there are times to stand steady behind difficult decisions.
Sometimes stubbornness is lethal, particularly for a political party that is far down in the polls. It takes the party off its message, hinders its ability to set the agenda. It’s particularly problematic when stubbornness has led to a large number of experienced and strong politicians — a third of the NDP caucus — making the decision not to run, opening the door for a potential PC win.
We’ll know which is which April 19.
Shannon Sampert is the Free Press perspectives and politics editor.