Five Manitoba ministers who started a revolt against the leadership of NDP Premier Greg Selinger resigned their cabinet posts on Monday, citing "turmoil" and "grave concerns" about not being able to speak their minds in government.
However, they insisted they will remain staunch NDP MLAs and vote with the government on issues in the legislature.
The five are:
- Jennifer Howard, Fort Rouge, former minister of finance.
- Stan Struthers, Dauphin, former minister of municipal government.
- Theresa Oswald, Seine River, former minister for jobs and the economy.
- Andrew Swan, Minto, former minister of justice.
- Erin Selby, Southdale, former minister of health.
"We're all New Democrats, those are our values. That's how we're going to vote in the house," Howard said.
As the ministers made their formal announcement Monday morning, she added there are others in the party who have not come forward but who agree with them.
"The concerns we have are not ours alone," Howard said.
The five said the problems started a few months ago when Selinger canvassed his ministers about his leadership.
They said when they answered honestly, he stopped listening to their advice and projects they had worked on were pushed aside in favour of those touted by his supporters.
"We expressed our views very clearly, and that is when, as my colleagues have said, we noticed a definite change in the way that things were being done," Swan said.
"It's become clear that if you are in a position where you support the point of view of the premier, that your priorities and your projects move up the queue ahead of what was once a government plan and what would be, indeed, the priorities of Manitobans and what Manitobans need," Oswald said.
"This is of grave concern to me that that kind of prioritization would start to take place. When you are a voice that may not sing in harmony with what the premier wants to say, it becomes very difficult for your voice to be heard after that."
Selinger wasn't looking for advice about his leadership so much as "validation," Struthers added.
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"Our concern is the premier has become more concerned about remaining leader than necessarily doing things in the best interest of Manitobans," he said.
In response to the resignations, Selinger appointed four new cabinet ministers and changed and adjusted the portfolios of six existing cabinet members. They were sworn in on Monday afternoon.
Howard, the outgoing minister of finance, told CBC News that during a weekend meeting between Selinger and the disgruntled cabinet members, he gave them a choice: Take back what they had said against him or resign.
Based on that, Howard said there really was no choice.
“I don't think there is a way for any of us to have done that with integrity — just to go out this week and say, 'No, we really didn't mean it,'" she said, adding that the premier is not listening to the advice of his cabinet, so they can no longer function as ministers.
'In recent weeks and months, it has become clear to us that he is increasingly being driven by his desire to hold onto his leadership rather than by the best interests of Manitobans.' —Statement from cabinet ministers
The ministers, as well as several party executives, began suggesting last week that Selinger step aside as party leader so the NDP could rebuild before going into the next provincial election, in early 2016.
They said he has failed the party because he hasn't been able to rebuild Manitobans' trust after his flip-flop on the provincial sales tax (PST). The premier promised in the 2011 election campaign that he would not increase the PST to eight per cent from seven per cent, but then did exactly that in July 2013.
Those who have spoken publicly against Selinger said the public feels betrayed and it shows in the polls. Recent numbers have put Selinger's support at an all-time low.
However, when asked by reporters on Monday if they voted in support of the PST increase, all five cabinet ministers admitted they had.
"We can look back on the way it was done and have lots of ideas of how it could've been done better, but we looked at the options," said Howard.
"The options were deep cuts to health and education, don't invest in infrastructure or find some revenue. Raising the PST was a way of doing that and we all voted for it in the house."
Added Struthers: "What was our choice? We were gonna vote against our own government? I mean, I wasn't prepared to vote against the government that has done so much good work over the 15 years for people in Manitoba.
"My vote was very much in the spirit of supporting the government that I represented."
Can the NDP recover?
Selinger said last week that he would not resign and plans to lead the party into the next election expected in 2016.
But after a revolt like this, it will be hard for the NDP to recover in time, said Allen Mills, a political scientist at the University of Winnipeg.
"To suffer this sort of loss of such crucial advisers, its strikes me as pretty disastrous. I think it is the most serious political crisis within a governing government within the last 50 years,” he said, noting the fall of Manitoba’s Howard Pawley-led NDP government in 1988 was “kind of messy, but not as messy as this.”
Howard disagrees with the suggestion the party's future is grim. While she is not happy it has come to this, she and the four other ministers said they are stepping down now so healing can take place and the party can still get back, in her words," on the winning track" before the next election.
The NDP currently holds 35 of the 57 legislature seats in Manitoba.
Statement from Premier Greg Selinger
Premier Greg Selinger issued the following statement early Monday, after the five dissident ministers put out a joint statement announcing their resignations from cabinet (see below):
Last week I had direct conversations with members of my team who have chosen another path. In those conversations I made it clear: either focus on the priorities of Manitoba families as a part of our team, or resign. I am saddened by the decisions they've made. I wish to thank each for their contributions toward building a better province.
In 2011, Manitobans elected a dedicated, diverse and experienced group of New Democrat MLAs, representative of every region of our province, with experience in a wide variety of fields.
I will appoint a new cabinet from this talented team. Our government will remain focused on the priorities of all Manitobans — creating jobs and opportunities, investing in infrastructure and protecting services. The new cabinet will be sworn in today.
Statement from the outgoing cabinet ministers
For some time, it has been increasingly difficult to do our jobs because the premier has stopped listening to our advice. This has been the case since we privately discussed, at his invitation, our concerns about his leadership.
In recent weeks and months, it has become clear to us that he is increasingly being driven by his desire to hold onto his leadership rather than by the best interests of Manitobans.
To do their jobs, ministers need to be able to speak up honestly in cabinet and disagree with the premier at times without fear that speaking their minds on some points will mean their voices are ignored on the things that are important to Manitobans. Increasingly, in the last few months, this has not been the case.
Our decision to resign is not because of any single issue or a single decision. It is because we can no longer work with a premier who refuses to hear us. He refuses to hear us not just on the leadership issue, but also on a wide range of issues in our portfolios.
There are many important issues and there is much work to do. But we cannot work together on the priorities of Manitobans if we cannot be honest with the premier.
We are proud of many accomplishments on behalf of Manitobans during our time in cabinet. Many of these achievements are owed to the premier, and it extremely difficult for us to leave other work unfinished. However, remaining in cabinet with integrity is no longer an option.
We will continue to serve as MLAs and to work for our constituents. We will continue to be New Democrats, because that is the party whose values we share.
We thank the premier for the opportunity to serve in cabinet. Our resignations take effect as soon as a smooth transition can be arranged. We will, of course, offer whatever information and assistance is needed to those who take our places.
Our motivation to run for office was to make life better for all Manitobans, but especially those with the least. That remains our motivation and that is why we believe the stakes could not be higher in the next election.
Everybody who runs in an election knows they might not win. Winning elections isn’t about getting a big office or a fancy title. For us, winning elections is about winning the right to stand up for the very people who would be most hurt by a [Progressive Conservative leader] Brian Pallister government.
And that is what has motivated us and will continue to motivate us in the days and weeks and months ahead.