NDP provincial council members have voted against a motion that called on Greg Selinger to step down as Manitoba's premier if a leadership race takes place next spring.
Council members defeated the motion during a closed-door meeting on Saturday.
Charleswood provincial council representative Curtis Nordman had put forth the motion, which said Selinger — or any cabinet minister who enters the leadership contest — must step down during the race.
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"Legal opinion is just that, a legal opinion. It does not speak to the morality of what's going on," said a representative speaking for the motion at Saturday's meeting.
So much of the meeting was audible from outside the room that party members were eventually placed near the glass door to bar reporters from listening in.
Selinger's supporters speak out
Paul Moist, the national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and James Allum, who replaced Andrew Swan as justice minister, took to the media to battle against the motion earlier this week.
"Frankly, it's very, very unfair," Allum said of the motion on Friday.
On Saturday, St. Norbert NDP MLA Dave Gaudreau says it doesn't make sense for the premier to take a leave of absence every time his leadership is questioned.
"Having the leader having to step down every time somebody challenges him would just be so ineffective for running a province," he said.
"Imagine every year, for nine months of the year, you would have a premier, and for three months of the year that premier would have to step down. How effective would that be for Manitoba? I think that was a bad idea."
As for Nordman, he told reporters that he was disappointed with the outcome of the vote.
"I think we missed an opportunity to be more transparent," he said.
Statement from Selinger
Greg Selinger, speaking as Manitoba NDP leader, issued the following statement after the meeting on Saturday:
"I'm pleased that the members at our Provincial Council today democratically adopted rules and guidelines that govern the business of our convention, including any potential leadership challenge under our party constitution. Recommendations were adopted that ensure supporters of any potential candidate are treated with respect under our anti-harassment language. The decisions today allow our government to continue to work for the priorities of Manitobans."
Rebel MLAs Jennifer Howard and Swan were at the meeting, along with provincial council members and most of the NDP caucus.
Howard and Swan greeted council members with a letter defending their actions and asking the NDP to work together for a fair leadership contest.
Swan later told reporters he still thinks Selinger should step aside during the race.
"I think it's quite clear to most Manitobans that the right thing to do is to step down," Swan said. "I still expect the premier and any cabinet minister who wants to run should do that."
Letter from rebel MLAs
December 6, 2014
Dear Fellow New Democrats –
Over the last few weeks we have had a chance to speak with many of you about the reasons some of us resigned our cabinet positions, and others spoke publicly about the need for a leadership change in our Party. Some of these conversations have been difficult, as we listened to you express your anger, sadness and surprise that internal discussions had been made public. Many of you have also expressed your support for us and your appreciation that we had taken the risk of being honest. Even when we have disagreed, all of these discussions have been respectful and none of us have questioned each other’s principles or dedication to our Party and its values.
Together, we have debated ideas and policies where we passionately disagree. We have supported different candidates in nomination fights and leadership contests and always came together to fight the next battle. Our Party is proud of our commitment to democracy - a commitment that includes the ability to openly disagree – even with the Leader – without fear of having your integrity attacked.
It is important to us that you know that we had frank discussions about our concerns with our Leader and sought a resolution long before any of this became public. Much has been reported about what motivated us to take the actions that we have taken. We want you to know the truth - our overwhelming motivation is the pain and suffering that Manitobans will experience if we don’t do everything in our power to avoid handing the next election to Brian Pallister and the Conservatives.
When we were elected, we knew that our job was to act in the interests of all Manitobans – but especially those families with the least. We are proud of our government’s accomplishments and committed to its vision for the future - which is why we voted for the Throne Speech. We believe Premier Selinger deserves full credit for the progress we’ve made together in making education more accessible; in rebuilding our health care system and in making Manitoba a more fair society.
We know that we will lose everything we have worked for together if we do not win the next election. And we know that those who will be most hurt will be Manitobans who seldom have a voice. We believe that our best chance to keep building the kind of Manitoba we all want to live in is with a new Leader. And we believe that the NDP should be the kind of political party where we can have that debate openly, honestly and fearlessly.
We believe that Premier Selinger has shown his commitment to that kind of open debate by publicly calling for a leadership contest. We trust you – the members of Provincial Council – to ensure such a contest is fair. We believe that only a fair leadership contest will allow us all to unite behind the Leader and take on the challenge of beating Brian Pallister and the Conservatives in the next election.
We need to keep talking. Even when we disagree. Even when we feel hurt by each other’s public comments. We cannot let a disagreement over leadership turn into a war that will destroy our movement and hamper our ability to form a government that Manitobans trust to have their best interests at heart. We have come too far together - and know each other’s commitment to our Party too well –to become distracted by those who would try to make us enemies of each other.
We have an opportunity over the next few months to show our fellow Manitobans and Canadians what democracy can be. We can rise above the bullying tactics and name-calling that have become the sad hallmarks of “politics as usual” in other political parties. We can have a respectful debate about the best way forward for our Party and emerge stronger, united and ready once again to fight for those Manitobans who so desperately need the hope for which New Democrats stand.
Jennifer Howard, MLA – Fort Rouge
Theresa Oswald, MLA – Seine River
Clarence Pettersen, MLA – Flin Flon
Erin Selby, MLA – Southdale
Stan Struthers, MLA- - Dauphin
Andrew Swan, MLA - Minto
Council agrees on 18 rules
In all, the NDP provincial council agreed on 18 rules for a leadership contest, which would take place if anyone challenges Selinger at the party's annual convention set for March 6-8, 2015, in Winnipeg.
"These rules will serve as a framework for an open and fair process should there be a leadership election at our annual convention," party president Ellen Olfert said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
"They focus on timelines and specific guidelines around memberships, nominations, and governance."
Anyone who wants to run for NDP leader would have to agree not to spend any public money for party-related or leadership purposes, according to the council.
You can read a party backgrounder on the recommendations below.