City & Politics, Politics

Smooth sailing for Selinger?

It’s summer.  Traditionally in Manitoba, a time when people are too busy at the lake or complaining about the Blue Bombers to give much thought to politics. Summer 2013 is a little bit different though, as the Tories have prevented the legislature from their traditional summer break to continue to draw attention to the PST hike that has already been in place since July 1. Personally I could use a break from the PST talk so why not take a purely speculative look at whether or not Premier Selinger will run again next election.

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When Selinger took over the NDP reigns and became Premier in 2009 the future looked relatively bright. Manitoba hadn’t been hit overly hard by the recent economic problems that had hit other provinces. Manitobans were, for the most part, content with being governed by New Democrats.

Selinger faced a slight scare from the PC Party in the 2011 election, but ultimately the NDP’s strength in Winnipeg would fend off any challenge and though Selinger’s NDP lost some ground in the popular vote they were still able to increase their majority of seats in the legislature by one. PC leader Hugh McFadyen resigned on election night and it looked like it would be another term of smooth sailing for Selinger.

Fast forward to 2013 and the NDP appears to have the lowest amount of support they’ve seen since forming government in 1999. The Tories have a new leader who seems to be more determined to become Premier than his two predecessors, the Liberals are in a last ditch effort to make themselves relevant and the prospect of the NDP losing power in 2016 is very real.

The NDP go-to plan of scaring the public into voting against the opposition instead of voting in favour of their government is already in full effect, but we’ve yet to see what kind of affect it may have on the electorate. Sometimes voters just need a change. Sometimes that change can come from within a party and not from the opposition. Sometimes a leader just needs to go for the sake of his/her party. Could Selinger really call it quits and let a new leader carry the NDP torch into the next election? Probably not, but why let that stop us from speculating.

We don’t need to look too far to see an example of a leader stepping aside after only one election in which they gained seats in the legislature. In Alberta, Ed Stelmach picked up 12 seats for his Progressive Conservative Party in the 2008 election before calling it quits in 2011, a year before the next election. During Stelmach’s tenure as Premier he faced deteriorating economic conditions and under his watch Alberta had its first budget deficit in 16 years. Sound a little familiar?

Stelmach’s decision to step down as Alberta PC leader paid off as his successor, Alison Redford, was able to fend off a strong challenge from the Wildrose Party and the PC Party maintained its stranglehold on government for yet another term.

It has become clear that Selinger has become a liability for his party. There is no escaping his 2011 quote that he would not be increasing the PST. The PC Party should just play it on loop next election. While any new leader will have his or her hands full defending the NDP record they likely wouldn’t be dug in quite as deep as Selinger. If New Democrats haven’t already begun to consider their options about replacing him with a fresh face they should start. Selinger himself should seriously entertain the idea. It was never going to be easy for a new Premier to fill the shoes of former Premier Gary Doer. Doer had charisma like very few politicians in the country and was able to win over voters in a way that Selinger can only dream to.

Of course this isn’t Alberta. Is there a Manitoban New Democrat version of Alison Redford waiting in the wings to save the party? Judging from the ho-hum NDP leadership race that brought Selinger into the leader’s seat it would appear unlikely. It wouldn’t appear as if runner up Steve Ashton can be the saving grace of the party. Justice Minister Andrew Swan didn’t have the will to keep his name on the ballot last time around and others in the NDP caucus seem to lack the ambition needed to run the province. Still, if the opportunity were to arise, a bright star either from outside or within caucus may appear and surprise some people. Someone who can distance him or herself far enough from Selinger, while still being able to effectively carry the NDP torch.

The NDP strategy to either hope for an incredible economic boost, hope Manitobans forget about the PST hike, demonize the opposition/hope for opposition gaffes seems a little flimsy. Maybe they should consider a more drastic option.

Kelly McCrae is a former PC caucus staffer and is currently a public affairs consultant with Grey Owl Public Affairs. Follow him at: @kellymccrae