Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Manitoba NDP premier faces internal political crisis

The last four elections, fifteen years, Manitoba has elected the New Democrats to rule the province. Even though during the last election Greg Selinger the leader of the party and premier won a resounding majority he is facing internal criticism.

Several senior cabinet ministers in Sellinger's government publicly spoke out about public dissatisfaction with the premier's performance. Five ministers and one former minister spoke out on Monday and Tuesday of this week: "..Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Jobs and the Economy Minister Theresa Oswald, Health Minister Erin Selby, Local Government Minister Stan Struthers, Finance Minister Jennifer Howard and former labour minister Becky Barrett — suggested that Selinger should consider his future and come to a decision that is in the best interests of the government and the province. " Selinger did not take the hint and announce his resignation or even a leadership review. He announced he intends to lead the NDP in the next election.
No Manitoba premier has ever been ousted by his party midway through his term and leading a majority government. The only time that an NDP premier lost power in Manitoba was in 1988. Howard Pawley resigned but only because he lost a confidence vote when an NDP member voted against his own party's budget. The NDP has 35 of the 57 seats in the legislature so at least 7 party members would need to vote against any legislation to bring the government down and force an election. No doubt few party members want that to happen since the party would likely lose the election.
 The New Democratic Party is regarded as on the left of the political spectrum. However, the Manitoba NDP has been far from radical. The former premier Gary Doer was arguably much better at communicating with the public then Greg Sellinger who was a social work professor and then a finance minister. Doer was chosen by Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper to be Canadian ambassador to the United States. This gives an indication of how far to the left Doer was. He is now no doubt busy selling the merits of Tar Sands development in Washington.
Becky Barret, a former labour minister said that Selinger made a mistake in not stepping down for the party's sake. She thinks that if he stays on the NDP will lose to the Conservatives: "He missed that opportunity. He didn't take that decisive leadership role and I'm very disappointed that didn't happen,"
Selinger lost a great deal of support when he changed his position on raising the provincial sales tax. In his 2011 election campaign he promised not to raise the provincial sales tax from 7 to 8 percent but then in July of 2013 he did exactly that. At least he kept his promise for about two years, not too bad for a politician. Several other provinces also have eight per cent sales tax including Ontario next door to Manitoba. Quebec has almost a ten percent tax and Nova Scotia's tax is also ten. Manitoba is hardly exceptional. The exceptional province is Alberta with no sales tax at all. Barrett complained that Selinger has never been able to explain to the people why he changed his mind on the tax and as a result has lost the trust of the people.
 Given that Selinger has decided not to resign, a cabinet shuffle can be expected with those ministers who have publicly criticized the premier losing their portfolios. As Selinger delicately phrased it: "I've said all options are available as we move forward. Every year we review how we've been doing together and cabinet shuffles are often one of the alternatives that are available to you,"
 Allen Mills, a political science prof. at the University of Winnipeg said of Selinger: "He has a political crisis on his hands in the form of, well, five cabinet ministers that clearly challenged his authority and did so publicly. And it seems to me that in the norms of the parliamentary system, they either have to resign or he has to fire them." Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba also noted that the situation was very dramatic and unprecedented in the modern political era.
  Probe Research in an October 9th poll done for the Winnipeg Free Press and CTV showed the Progressive Conservatives with a 12 point percentage lead over the New Democrats:The Progressive Conservatives currently have the support of 42 percent of decided Manitoba voters, down slightly from the level of support the party recorded in June (-3%). Three-in-ten decided voters, meanwhile, would cast a ballot for the New Democratic Party in a hypothetical general election (30%, down from 32% in June). One-in-five voters (20%) now prefer the provincial Liberals – which marks a slight increase (+4%) since the last Probe Research survey in June. Eight percent of decided voters would cast a ballot for the Green Party or other parties not represented in the Legislature. The last election was on October 4, 2011 but the next election is not expected until April of 2016. This gives the NDP a considerable length of time to rebuild the party and public trust but there is no guarantee this will happen. Governments sometimes are able to create the conditions for their own defeat.

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