Sunday, October 18, 2009

New Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger

There does not seem to have been much dissension during the convention. Both candidates were well known and safe more or less middle of the road although Ashton seemed to offer more promises and is very well liked in the north. There will likely be little change in policy. The NDP in Manitoba is tame enough that outgoing premier Gary Doer was chosen to serve as the Harper government ambassador to the U.S. Apparently the NDP thinks this is just fine and does not reflect upon their political direction. While Greyhound is trying to extort subsidies etc. from the government therre is no suggestion in discussions that the NDP might follow the lead of the Sask. govt. and create a provincial bus service. That would be far too radical I suppose.

Canada's newest premier former community activist, number-cruncher
By Steve Lambert And Chinta Puxley (CP) – 16 hours ago
WINNIPEG — As Manitobta premier for the last decade, Gary Doer straddled demands for increased social change with business tax cuts.
The province's next premier isn't expected to diverge from that path.
Former Finance Minister and premier-designate Greg Selinger has long had a foot in both worlds.
A former community activist in the inner-city, he was educated at the upper-crust London School of Economics.
During a decade as Manitoba's finance minister, he cut personal and business taxes in a bid to boost the economy, yet maintained a reputation for pursuing social justice and won the support of many labour groups in his bid to become premier.
After a day of talking with business leaders and fellow politicians inside the stately legislative building, he dresses down and bicycles back to his constituency in Winnipeg's St. Boniface district, where he is known as a grassroots politician who has worked to enhance French-language services.
Selinger, who was elected Saturday as Manitoba's new NDP leader and premier, is both an economics wonk and a believer in a big social safety net.
"We are determined to act in the face of economic threats, but we will not let those threats determine our future," Selinger told delegates Saturday.
"We will set our own course for the future of Manitoba. If we want an economy that meets the needs and respects the environment, we can't rely on outdated policies. We need innovation, imagination and investment, not just tax cuts."
Selinger, 58, grew up the son of a single mother in the middle-class St. James neighbourhood of Winnipeg. He became a social worker in the city's poverty-stricken north end.
He saw some of the city's poorest get involved with loansharks - something that would prompt him, three decades later, to set strict limits on interest rates for short-term lenders, including payday loan companies.
"I've taken those lessons," he told delegates gathered Saturday. "I've tried to apply them to politics."
He earned a PhD at the London School of Economics, and took an interest in how economics are affected by government policies.
In 1979, Selinger founded Winnipeg's Community Economic Development Association, which helps inner-city residents access social programs and start small businesses. He was elected to city council in 1989 and chaired the city's finance committee.
Union leader Paul Moist, national president of CUPE, worked with Selinger when he was on city council.
"We've got a guy who is a very educated man. He cut his teeth in the heart of Winnipeg, one of the poorest areas of Winnipeg," Moist said on the convention floor Saturday.
"He understands the social challenges facing Winnipeg particularly, and Manitoba. But he also understands that Manitobans are a progressive, but really a socially conservative population as well."
Selinger lost a bid for mayor in 1992, and jumped to provincial politics in 1999, winning the St. Boniface seat and being named finance minister for the new NDP government.
"After (Doer) won in 1999, he had one person in mind and only one person in mind to make minister of finance," Moist said. "That was Greg Selinger."
As keeper of the public purse, Selinger rode a middle ground, cutting small business and personal income taxes and boosting spending on hospitals, community colleges and social housing.
Among his boldest moves was to cut the income tax rate for small businesses, from eight per cent in 1999 to zero by 2010.
He has had many critics.
Businesses have complained that his tax cuts paled in comparison to those in Saskatchewan and other provinces, while social activists have said welfare rates were not keeping pace with inflation.
But the middle-of-the-road approach helped the NDP capture larger majorities in 2003 and 2007. The NDP even managed to steal longtime Tory strongholds in Winnipeg's well-to-do suburbs.
That approach is unlikely to change with Selinger in the premier's chair. He takes great pains to stress that he wants to continue the work done by Gary Doer, whose popularity with voters never waned.
"I think everyone understands that we're heading into turbulent times," said Conservation Minister Stan Struthers, a Selinger supporter after his first pick, Andrew Swan, dropped out of the race.
"We need somebody who understands that. We need somebody who's got the experience of 10 balanced budgets under his belt."
While all 10 of his budgets have been balanced under provincial law, many were in fact deficits under the normal accounting rules used by Ottawa and other provinces. Manitoba's overall debt has continued to grow.
Selinger also came under fire in 2007 following the meltdown of the Crocus Investment Fund, a labour-sponsored venture fund set up by the province. A leaked cabinet memo showed Selinger warned his fellow ministers in 2000 that Crocus was facing financial troubles, but the public was never told. Five years later, the fund went into receivership, leaving 34,000 investors wondering whether they could recoup their money.
The government responded to the controversy by saying the fund was run by an arm's-length board, and the province was not responsible for its performance. The affair didn't put a dent in the NDP's popularity.
On a personal level, Selinger acknowledges his new role will require him to spend a lot more time in front of television cameras and at public events. He and his wife, Claudette Toupin, have two sons.
It will be a big change for a man who appears more comfortable discussing government policy in small groups than glad-handing in crowds or speaking to large audiences.
"Greg Selinger is a very warm person actually. He may strike people at first glance as reserved," Moist said. "He's not the first one to the microphone."
Selinger himself says he's ready for the high profile.
"I think the role means you're more in the public eye, you're more out of the (legislative) building as opposed to being in the building when you're the finance minister working on budgets," he said recently.
"But the reality is that the overall purpose is the same - how to grow the economy, how to make sure all your citizens can participate in society and the economy, and to do it in such a way that you bring people together along the way."
Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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