Right in the Centre - It's hard to keep up


By Ken Waddell

The Neepawa Banner

It’s hard to keep up with the unfolding of events in the Manitoba government. By the time you read this, things may have changed around a lot more, but as of Monday morning, we have a premier who doesn’t understand the difference between a leadership review vote and a leadership convention.

Premier Selinger say he has convinced the NDP party executive to hold a leadership review vote at their annual convention in March.

That would be all well and good and the request matches up with party rules. However, in a pattern of confusion and being politically tone deaf that we become accustomed to, the premier also said others can put their names forward and get on the ballot. That’s not how it works. Parties regularly have leadership reviews. The first one I experienced in person was when some upset PC Manitoba members showed up at a convention in Winnipeg and asked for a leadership review of Gary Filmon. Filmon seized the moment and asked the convention to have a review the next day. It was a gutsy move and cemented Filmon’s grip on the party for years to come. Many years later, there was a call for a review at  a PC convention on the leadership of Stu Murray but the motion didn’t even get a seconder. Forces opposed to Murray gathered steam a couple of years later and after a leadership confidence vote where he didn’t get a high enough support to carry on, Murray resigned.

That’s how leadership reviews work. If the leader survives, they carry on. If they don’t, there’s a leadership convention. You can’t do both at the same time. That is not until now, if Selinger’s plan comes about. In some sort of twisted logic, Selinger has asked for a vote on his leadership as not only a review but as leadership race all in one. It’s almost impossible to carry out. 

Big problems loom. If Selinger plans to stay on and he says he is staying on, then does he step down as premier to conduct a leadership campaign? Does anyone in cabinet who wants to challenge him step down as well. Leadership candidates can’t be in cabinet or worse yet, be premier, and still run for the office. It’s a huge conflict of interest to be a premier or a cabinet minister and run in a leadership race at the same time. Just imagine, Selinger or a cabinet minister being out on government business, at government expense, perhaps making a funding announcement. On the side, they could be campaigning for votes and maybe twisting a funding recipients arm for a bit of cash to bolster their leadership election costs.

Yes there are costs. Even a provincial leadership run, over only a few months, can be very costly. It’s not unusual for it to cost $50,000 or more. If you are a sitting cabinet minister or premier then your costs could be reduced as you travel at government  expense. It’s a very unsavoury scenario, but inevitable under Selinger’s current plan.

The situation gets even worse. It’s not as if this whole scenario will unfold in the summer silly season of politics where politicians go around to festivals and fairs, ride in parades and eat endless amounts of BBQ hamburgers. This is the eve of the fall legislature season with a throne speech and vigorous debate on government programs. Long before the March NDP convention, there should be a new budget passed. With the recent departure of five cabinet minsters earlier this month, there’s some very rookie cabinet ministers in some portfolios, not the least of which is Finance.

Then, how many of the cabinet ministers will step aside and run for the leadership. Selinger should hope there will be two or better yet three so as to divide the anti-Selinger vote. The NDP have long known that you don’t have to get all the votes in an election, just more than the next guy so a divided anti-Selinger would work well for the premier.

Then, if cabinet ministers have to step aside to run, doesn’t the premier have to as well. If so, then who will be acting premier?

It will be interesting times in Manitoba politics. We thought municipal amalgamation was big distraction. It will pale in comparison to this smokescreen. Maybe it’s all part of a greater NDP plot to either set Selinger on more solid ground or to get a new leader so we will all forget the doubling of the debt since 1999, the PST increase, the huge fee increases and amalgamation. That’s going to take a lot of smoke but with all the smouldering going on in Winnipeg, anything is possible.