Manitoba NDP caucus try to restore normalcy after cabinet shakeup

Manitoba's governing NDP caucus is trying to move past the last week and a half, in which five of its top cabinet ministers quit amid questions about the leadership of Premier Greg Selinger.

Date will be set for Manitoba legislature's fall session, says Steve Ashton

Manitoba's NDP caucus is trying to move past the last week and a half, in which five of its top cabinet ministers quit amid questions about the leadership of Premier Greg Selinger. 2:05

Manitoba's governing NDP caucus is trying to move past the last week and a half, in which five of its top cabinet ministers quit amid questions about the leadership of Premier Greg Selinger.

After Selinger replaced the outgoing cabinet ministers with a new team on Monday, the province's governing party says it's business as usual.

Steve Ashton, who becomes the new house leader, told CBC News the cabinet will meet on Wednesday and decide whether to hold a fall session of the legislature.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announces his ministers during a signing-in ceremony of his new cabinet at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg on Monday. The cabinet shuffle came following the resignation of five ministers amid internal dissent that continues to threaten his leadership. (John Woods/Canadian Press)
"What's important here is the business of the province. We are going to be going back into session," Ashton said late Tuesday afternoon.

"I'll be in a position to announce a specific date very shortly. And when we're going back, I look forward, as house leader, with working with our cabinet colleagues and our caucus colleagues."

In resigning from cabinet, Jennifer Howard, Stan Struthers, Theresa Oswald, Andrew Swan and Erin Selby cited "turmoil" and "grave concerns" about not being able to speak their minds in government. They remain in the NDP caucus as MLAs.

Those members and other critics suggested that Selinger consider stepping down, citing the party's waning popularity in opinion polls in recent months.

Selinger has maintained that he will stay put as premier and party leader.

Tories planning their own throne speech

Normally, the NDP government would have set a date for the fall session and speech from the throne by now.

Because a date has yet to be set, the opposition Progressive Conservatives say they'll deliver their own throne speech on Nov. 14.

"I think it's right for us to let Manitobans see a better picture of where we're really wanting to go," PC Leader Brian Pallister told reporters on Tuesday.

Pallister said having no date for the fall session suggests lingering dysfunction within the NDP. He suggested that Selinger's new cabinet is a docile and weaker version of the old one.

"The three Ds would be, I suppose, symbolic this week: Dissidents replaced by the docile. But the D that concerns me and I think concerns Manitobans most is disrespect — disrespecting the intelligence of Manitobans," he said.

But Ashton dismissed Pallister's arguments, saying it's not unusual for Manitoba to have the throne speech in the fall or in the spring session.

Ashton also said that past Progressive Conservative governments often did not hold a fall sitting.

"Brian Pallister, he's the king of political stunts," Ashton said, adding that he doesn't think the Tories' "throne speech" will have much substance to it.

"I think it's going to be a short speech, short in terms of time, short in terms of content," he said. "Mr. Pallister can criticize all he wants. We're getting down to the business of the government."

NDP MLAs show their support

About half of Selinger's NDP caucus was present as the new cabinet was sworn in on Monday afternoon.

No one had expected the now-former cabinet ministers, known informally as the Gang of Five, to be there, but some observers wondered about some other MLAs who were noticeably absent.

"I had something in the constituency at that exact time, so I just wasn't able to make it there," said NDP caucus chair Matt Wiebe, who added that he supports the new cabinet. 

"I think a lot has been made of who was there and who wasn't there, but the reality is that as a caucus, we're ready to come together," he said.

If the legislative assembly does have a session this fall, it's not known how much party support Selinger will have, but he does have the backing of members like Dave Gaudreau.

"To remove or suggest that he go or to do anything like that, it's not up to me," said Gaudreau, the NDP MLA for St. Norbert.

"Anybody who tries to take that on themselves — or a group of small people — I think that that really does a disservice to all the rest of the members of the party who decided that Greg is the leader."

Gaudreau added that he intends to focus on his constituency and not on the turmoil within the NDP.

It is possible for the New Democrats to overthrow Selinger as party leader. A resolution could be voted on at an NDP Provincial Council meeting in December or at the party's annual convention in March 2015.

Wayne Copeland, a longtime NDP organizer in Manitoba, said Selinger should settle the continued unrest himself.

"He should either resign and run in a convention or ask that a leadership convention be called because I don't see how otherwise this situation can be put to rest," Copeland said.


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