The beleaguered premier of Manitoba, Greg Selinger, is running to retain his leadership of the Manitoba New Democratic Party(NDP) at a convention to be held on March 8.
Selinger faced a recent revolt by five cabinet ministers who criticized Selinger and suggested he step down as premier. The five ended up resigning but continue as NDP members and will support government legislation.Two of the ministers have filed papers to run for the leadership. Selinger filed his nomination papers at the NDP provincial office in Winnipeg. At the same time he defended his decision to raise the provincial sales tax to 8 per cent from 7. The decision was very unpopular since during the election campaign he had promised not to raise the tax.
Selinger will continue to be premier during the leadership race and said:
“I plan to make my first responsibility governing is for the people of Manitoba. There is a leadership contest going on. That will be the second priority in the sense that your first duty is to serve the people of Manitoba.”
Theresa Oswald, formerly Minister for Jobs and the Economy, was first to enter the leadership fray on December 19th followed by former Transportation Minister Steve Ashton. Ashton has promised to promote local food and social enterprises in a speech made at Local Meats and Frozen Treats, a company selling made-in-Manitoba products. Ashton also called for a referendum on the increase in the sales tax, an obvious challenge to Selinger.
Oswald has the endorsement of two Winnipeg city councillors. On the campaign trail Oswald said: "
Premier Selinger has served this province with dedication for many years and it's been an honour to work together on important programs for Manitobans, including free cancer drugs for all patients, expanding home care for seniors and introducing the Rent Assist housing benefit for low income families.I look forward to a respectful, constructive and honest debate about who is the right man or woman to renew our party, regain the confidence and trust of Manitobans and ensure the NDP is competitive going into the next election."
Selinger has the dubious distinction of being Canada's least popular premier with an approval rating of just 17 per cent. Next door in Saskatchewan Brad Wall of the conservative-leaning Saskatchewan Party is the most popular at a 65 per cent rating. Political scientist, Alan Mills, of the University of Winnipeg said that the NDP will lose the next election unless they dump Selinger: "I think with him as the leader, the NDP is a dead duck."
While the next election could be more than a year away, the NDP has a large gap to bridge between its support and that for the Conservatives. A recent poll in December puts their support at just 26 percent of decided voters. This is tied with the lowest level for the party ever recorded by Probe Research in December of 2013 just a year ago. The Progressive Conservatives(PC) have improved from 42 percent in September to 48 percent now giving them a comfortable 12 percent lead over the NDP, although the PC vote is much stronger in rural areas than in the city of Winnipeg. The Liberal Party has the support of 19 percent of voters a drop of one percent since September.