After a very close leadership convention with a final vote of 759 to 726, the Manitoba NDP elected to keep party leader Greg Selinger rather than chief opponent, former cabinet minister, and current MLA for Seine River, Theresa Oswald. A majority needed 740 votes and, as Selinger took to the stage, Oswald moved that the results be declared unanimous, meaning she would not challenge the results, despite the mere 33 vote difference.
After the first ballot, former minister of infrastructure and transportation Steve Ashton was out, leaving only Premier of the Province Greg Selinger and his runner up, Theresa Oswald. CBC live coverage revealed a split between Ashton supporters who would throw their weight behind Selinger or behind Oswald. Oswald was credited with leading the internal rebellion against Premier Selinger and with leading the infamous Gang of Five out of cabinet back in November. These were not backbenchers, but the front row of Selinger’s cabinet: the ministers of finance, justice, jobs, health, and municipal government.
Party Unity was a key theme this weekend. Almost every delegate and candidate expressed the thought that New Democrats stand together, that, whatever the outcome, NDPer’s of Manitoba would stand behind their leader and take the province towards greater prosperity. Oswald’s call for unanimity supports that claim of unity, as does Ashton’s concession speech, where he refused to throw his support publicly behind either of the remaining candidates and reiterated that New Democrats would stand together.
The CBC live coverage of events, however, betrayed some lingering cracks in the party structure.
One former-Ashton-turned-Selinger supporter explained that she felt the media had blown the dissent within the party way out of proportion. Granted, said NDPer helped call the leadership convention with her support for Ashton. Reports of a crumbling New Democrat caucus were nevertheless grossly exaggerated, she explained. After all, the five Cabinet Ministers didn’t constitute half of cabinet! With a 14 Minister cabinet, that’s only 36% upset with the Premier, all in major positions(!)
Of the nearly 1,700 registered delegates at the convention in the morning, over 200 did not cast a vote beyond the first ballot. These were likely Ashton supporters who had so little confidence in the other options that they decided to go with neither and to go home instead. Selinger managed to cling to office, but, as he took the stage, many Oswald supporters did not stand to applaud him. Of the 92 youth delegates, some 91 voted for Oswald leaving Selinger’s future firmly in the hands of retirees and mid-lifers, who are the only ones who vote anyway.
In December, Angus Reid found that Selinger was once again the most unpopular current premier in Canada in contrast to his neighbour Brad Wall (the most popular premier). He is so unpopular that even the Toronto Sun had to report it, even though the Sun’s nemesis Kathleen Wynne polled in the middle of approval ratings. Current polls indicate that NDP support (after 16 continuous years in office) has hit rock bottom. Support for the provincial Tories is nearly at the 50% mark.
Thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s fixed election date, Manitoba’s next election has been bumped from October 19th of this year to April of next. Like the Conservative’s amendment to the Federal Law, the NDP amended the Manitoba Elections Act in 2008 to allow the Lieutenant Governor to reserve the right to dissolve the legislature (on the advice of the Premier) any time before that date. Apparently, Prime Minister Harper isn’t the only one who likes to leave loopholes for his own use.
Whenever the election is held, Manitoba’s NDP stand to face the electorate with the one who has led them down in the polls since 2009. The party is united (if you believe what Selinger says), but the size of that party after the next election is getting smaller every day.