Rebel MLA disappointed by Manitoba NDP caucus snub

A cabinet minister who called on Greg Selinger to quit is disappointed with the way premier has acted this week.

Rebel MLAs excluded from caucus meeting after Sunday’s NDP convention

Premier Greg Selinger talks with CBC's Marcy Markusa after winning the Manitoba NDP leadership election Sunday. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

A cabinet minister who called on Greg Selinger to quit is disappointed with the way premier has acted this week. 

Dauphin MLA Stan Struthers said he thought everyone would be allowed to attend a caucus meeting after Selinger’s win Sunday at the NDP leadership convention.

Instead, seven caucus members were barred from attending the first NDP caucus meeting Wednesday at the Manitoba Legislature post-convention.

"I was very disappointed that we couldn't build on the momentum that we were given by our membership on Sunday," Struthers said.

Seine River MLA Theresa Oswald lost to Selinger Sunday at an NDP leadership convention by 33 votes.

Selinger called the convention after Oswald, Struthers and three other high-ranking cabinet ministers called on him to step down last November. 

After a brief and uneasy truce with the premier, the five ministers held a press conference Nov. 5 to resign from cabinet.

"Theresa made it very clear that we would respect the wishes of the membership," Struthers said.

"I was hopeful that that meant that we could start working with all our oars in the water and travelling in the same direction, but that hasn't been the case as of yet."

Selinger undecided on what to do with rebels

Monday, Selinger said he had not made a decision on what to do with the rebellious ministers but that everyone has learned to work more collaboratively since his leadership style was challenged last fall.

Fort Rouge MLA Jennifer Howard and Minto MLA Andrew Swan, two of the dissidents, told CBC News Thursday they intend to run for the NDP in the April 2016 provincial election.

The other three dissidents haven’t decided if they will run.

"There's a lot up in the air right now," Southdale MLA Erin Selby said in a written statement.

"I'm waiting to see what happens before I make any decisions. The premier said he wants to bring the caucus and party together, and I’m interested in the same thing. The ball is in his court right now."

Rebuilding party 1 by 1

Jobs and the economy minister Kevin Chief said the rebuilding of the NDP is something all caucus members are committed to.

He said even if some members are barred from wider meetings, conversations can still happen one on one.

"Coming back together and being together is one part of it,” Chief said Thursday. “A lot of the work that's actually going to happen is going to be those conversations, is going to be talking to one another.”

Chief said he's reached out to some of the rebels since Sunday's vote but it’s up to the entire caucus to decide if the rebels will be allowed back in.

Chief wouldn't give a timeline of when he'd like to see them back as full participating members of the NDP caucus.

"Some of them I've spoken to consistently throughout the whole leadership campaign," Chief said. "There's not one caucus member that I wouldn't feel comfortable calling, asking for support, asking for advice and I'm going to continue to do this."

'We had a caucus meeting that left people out'

In December, the NDP caucus stripped the five former ministers and outspoken Flin Flon MLA Clarence Pettersen of decision-making powers and blocked them from attending caucus meetings.

At that time, embattled independent MLA Christine Melnick was brought back into the NDP caucus with the same limited powers.

Melnick was tossed from the NDP caucus in February 2014 for admitting she mislead legislators during a house debate.

"I think the members of the party gave us a very direct message to come together and to unify and focus on fighting Brian Pallister in the next election," Struthers said. "Instead we had a caucus meeting that left people out.”

Struthers said he hasn't spoken to the premier since the party vote Sunday.

He is open to re-joining cabinet but said it's not his decision. He said Selinger needs to establish a "unity cabinet."

"I'm not going to put any pressure on the premier one way or another. I don't have a demand to be in cabinet. If he asks me to be, I will gladly be … He needs to be courageous enough to make the decisions that are necessary to allow our party the best chance to compete."

Leadership contender Ashton staying silent

Thompson MLA Steve Ashton ran against Oswald and Selinger for party leadership but got the lowest amount of votes from NDP delegates and was dropped from the race after the first ballot.

Ashton was not part of the rebellion and was allowed at Wednesday's caucus meeting.

"We had a caucus meeting, and it was good to be in caucus and that's really the only thing that I can comment on," he said Thursday.

Since Sunday, Ashton has focused on catching up on constituency work. He wouldn't comment on the dissidents’ absence from the meeting.

Ashton resigned as transportation and infrastructure minister in December to run in the leadership race. He wouldn't say if he had spoken to the premier or if he would be welcomed back now.

"Any discussions I've had with the premier are between me and the premier," Ashton said.

About the Author

Chris Glover

CBC News Reporter

Chris spent half a decade as a political reporter for CBC Winnipeg, but now that he's returned to his hometown of Toronto, he's excitedly sinking his teeth in all sorts of stories. Discovering new neighbourhoods isn't a 9 to 5 job and after years away, he has a lot to catch up on. When he's not running around the city with a camera, you can find him on the island soaking up the sun or riding the trails along the Don River.

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