Premier Greg Selinger has declared he's staying put as NDP leader in Manitoba, prompting one political expert to call the party a "dead duck."
"He has a political crisis on his hands in the form of, well, five cabinet ministers that clearly challenged his authority and did so publicly. And it seems to me that in the norms of the parliamentary system, they either have to resign or he has to fire them," said Allen Mills, a political scientist at the University of Winnipeg.
"At least three of those five hold senior positions: minister of finance, minister of health and attorney general. So this is a fairly important, serious crisis for the premier."
Even if there are changes to cabinet, Mills believes the NDP is still in trouble.
"I think with him as the leader, the NDP is a dead duck," he said.
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On Tuesday afternoon, Selinger held a news conference to address the party upheaval playing out in the media. He said he would stay put as leader — and even seek re-election in 2016 — despite the party's faltering public support.
Selinger said he is focused on serving the province and he believes the NDP is making progress on infrastructure, health-care services and jobs.
"A better Manitoba means a better Manitoba for families. It means that we focus on their priorities, and that's what I'm committed to," said Selinger, who was surrounded by about half of his caucus — but none of those who have suggested he seriously consider his future as leader.
"My decision today is to continue to serve Manitobans. That's what I was elected to do."
Earlier on Tuesday, Justice Minister Andrew said Selinger must seriously consider his future for the sake of the party.
The NDP would have a tough road going into the next election — which will probably take place in 2016 — with him at the helm as there is a lot of evidence Manitobans are unhappy with him, Swan said.
Health Minister Erin Selby and Theresa Oswald, the minister of jobs and the economy, as well as Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers, have also voiced their concerns about the party's downward direction.
Finance Minister Jennifer Howard has been more measured, but she has encouraged Selinger to take into account the concerns that have been raised about his performance.
'A lot of anger directed at the premier,' says Swan
They and other critics have cited Selinger's controversial decision to raise the provincial sales tax last year as the reason why several polls in the past year have shows the NDP losing popularity.
Swan was asked if it appears that cabinet ministers were throwing Selinger under the bus because of the PST issue.
"I skip a curling team and when we lose, it goes in my name. When we win, it goes in my name. Rightly or wrongly, that's the way that this works," he said Tuesday.
"Frankly, there has been a lot of anger directed at the premier, and it's overshadowed the good things he has done."
Winnipeg's civic election last week, in which NDP-backed mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis lost to Brian Bowman despite holding the lead early in the campaign, shows that Manitobans are upset with the New Democrats, especially on the provincial level, Swan added.
Former cabinet minister Becky Barrett, who was the party’s director of organization during the 1980s and remains on the party's executive, said earlier this week that change was needed. Selinger "has a very difficult decision to make and he has to make it very quickly," she said.
'All options are on the table'
When asked Tuesday if he has actually thought of resigning, Selinger said he is always looking at how he is doing as leader.
"There are always moments of reflection when you go along about what your options are and whether you want to continue to be in a leadership role, and I've certainly done that on more than one occasion. It's almost an annual review," he said.
Selinger said he knows Manitobans aren't happy with the PST increase, but he maintained that raising the tax was the right decision to make, although he regretted how it was rolled out.
The premier said he has spoken with his top ministers, including the ones who have raised concerns in recent days. He said he was disappointed by those who have spoken out against him.
"I don't think it's been helpful for the mission that we're trying to serve, which is to make a better Manitoba," Selinger said.
When asked if a cabinet shuffle may be in the future, Selinger would only say that "all options are on the table" and cabinet performances are under review.
Curtis Brown, vice-president of Probe Research Inc. in Winnipeg, said Selinger has a lot of work ahead of him, "not only in terms of being able to sell the public and being able to connect better with them, but also the internal management of the party and making sure that everyone is all going in the same direction in the next 18 months."
Who stood by Selinger?
About half of the NDP caucus stood by Selinger during Tuesday's news conference. The cabinet ministers who were there included:
- Kerri Irvin-Ross.
- Peter Bjornson.
- Eric Robinson.
- Dave Chomiak.
- James Allum.
- Sharon Blady.
- Flor Marcelino (arrived late).
Also at Selinger's announcement were the following NDP MLAs:
- Jim Rondeau.
- Rob Altemeyer.
- Dave Gaudreau.
- Greg Dewar.
- Jim Maloway.
- Ted Marcelino.
- Mohinder Saran.
- Melanie Wight.
- Deanne Crothers.
Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said the New Democrats need to stop the infighting, get back to work and concentrate on the needs of Manitobans.
"This is a team that can't be trusted, and we have a caucus of people who can," Pallister said, referring to his Progressive Conservative caucus.
"I think the differences are being highlighted rather clearly in the last few days."
Lorraine Sigurdson, past president of the Manitoba NDP executive, said she's worried about the division within the party.
She said the party needs to move forward now that Selinger has said he's not stepping down.
"For the moment, I have to respect that decision, and certainly many of us will be thinking about what the party needs to do over the next two years before the election," she said.
Has been NDP leader, premier since 2009
Selinger was elected as the member for Saint Boniface in 1999 as the New Democrats came to power under the leadership of Gary Doer.
Selinger was Doer's finance minister for the NDP government's first 10 years.
After Doer accepted an appointment as Canada's ambassador to the United States in 2009, Selinger was chosen as his successor at a party convention that fall.
Selinger led the New Democrats to a historic fourth majority government in 2011, but public support started to drop almost two years later, when the government raised the provincial sales tax from seven to eight per cent.
It was an about-face from Selinger, who had said in the fall 2011 election campaign that he would not increase the PST, but then did exactly that in July 2013.
Selinger has defended the PST increase, saying the revenue is needed to fund infrastructure across the province, including roads, hospitals and flood-prevention structures.