Former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger says farewell to political life

Greg Selinger bid goodbye to a nearly 30-year career in politics Wednesday.

67-year-old announced last month he would resign March 7 in the wake of the Stan Struthers controversy

Former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger receives a Pendleton blanket in the Manitoba Legislature from NDP Leader Wab Kinew, left, and Premier Brian Pallister, centre, on Wednesday, Selinger's last day as an MLA. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Greg Selinger bid goodbye to a nearly 30-year career in politics Wednesday.

"It's an important day, because you acknowledge with gratitude the chance to serve the people of not only your constituency but the whole province, and you recognize that you don't do it alone," Manitoba's former premier said on his last day as the MLA for St. Boniface.

He spoke to reporters in Manitoba's legislature after making his final, emotional address to the House earlier in the day.

Selinger, who was first elected to Winnipeg city council in 1989, announced last month that he would resign on March 7.

The announcement came a week after Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew requested Selinger's resignation, in the wake of inappropriate touching allegations by seven women against former MLA Stan Struthers.

The incidents happened while Selinger, 67, was leader of the party.

At a news conference in late February, Selinger expressed sympathy for the women who came forward and said he must take responsibility for what happened under his leadership.

Asked at the time if he was truly leaving on his own initiative or if he felt like he was being pushed out, Selinger conceded it's a bit of both.

'I feel no particular rush to have to rush into something new right away,' Selinger said Wednesday when asked about his future plans. (Gil Rowan/CBC)

"I said this before — if something goes wrong, you bear responsibility for it if you're the leader, and the most important thing to do is to acknowledge that responsibility [and] make your apologies as required," Selinger told reporters Wednesday.

"But most importantly is to move to make things better, is to make amends, to move forward on things, and there's so many things we've been able to move forward on in this province."

From city hall to legislature

Selinger worked as an associate professor in the faculty of social work at the University of Manitoba before he went into public life in 1989 and was elected to Winnipeg city council. He served as councillor until 1992, when he stepped down to make a bid for mayor.

'I think people wanted a change': Looking back at Greg Selinger's legacy as former premier leaves politics

4 years ago
Duration 2:53
CBC Manitoba looks back at Greg Selinger's legacy in politics. The former Manitoba premier officially retired from politics Wednesday.

He placed second, losing to Susan Thompson, but his name was back on the ballot in 1999, this time as the NDP candidate for St. Boniface in the provincial election. He won easily and was appointed finance minister by then-premier Gary Doer.

Selinger held that position for a decade and in 2009, resigned from his cabinet position to make a bid for the party leadership after Doer stepped down.

He defeated leadership rival Steve Ashton and was sworn in as premier of Manitoba on Oct. 19, 2009.

With just two years as leader under his belt, Selinger led the party to its fourth straight majority government in the October 2011 general election, increasing the party's presence from 36 to 37 seats.

The shine came off two years later when the party faced public anger after it reneged on a promise not to increase the provincial sales tax. That led to a fissure within the NDP as five of his most senior cabinet ministers went public with calls for his resignation in 2014 and resigned their seats.

Selinger survived a leadership challenge, but his party's popularity didn't survive the controversy and was sent packing in the 2016 provincial election.

Former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger surrounded by family and supporters at the Manitoba Legislature during his last day as an MLA. (Gil Rowan/CBC)

"You always talk to people about the potential risks of certain actions, and then people make their choices. Was there a way to do that more forcefully? Perhaps. Was there a way to do that more persuasively? Perhaps," Selinger told reporters Wednesday when asked about the turmoil.

"But at the end of the day, you make your comments in a respectful way to people and then people make their choices."

The NDP plummeted to 14 seats in the 2016 election and Selinger resigned as party leader. He remained as MLA for St. Boniface until Wednesday.

University of Manitoba politics professor Paul Thomas says Selinger's departure from politics will help the NDP, but it's still too soon to know how effectively it will turn a page for the party, because internal bitterness remains. 

"Politics is a team sport and you have to try to maintain harmony within your cabinet and caucus," he said.

Praise from premier

Manitoba's current premier, Brian Pallister, NDP Leader Wab Kinew, Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard and Independent MLA Steven Fletcher all took time to laud Selinger for his service and bid him farewell before he exited the House.

"Madame Speaker, it's obvious, as is the case for all of us in this chamber … that we have differing views on issues. We are people who think about issues and so that happens. But Madame Speaker, our differences need not be focused upon today," Pallister said.

Kinew, Selinger's successor as NDP leader, said he entered politics under Selinger's banner. He shared memories of the former premier attending his father's funeral in 2012 and Selinger's work across the province during the flood of 2011.

"He was reassuring people, he was working with prime minister Harper at the time, but also with the common folks who were worried about their properties, who were worried about their lives in some instances, providing a steady hand. He was the leader our province needed," Kinew said.

Constituents will miss longtime MLA

St. Boniface business owner Zenon Kuzemczak said Selinger was sensible and did a lot of good representing her community. She's disappointed Selinger won't stay on as her MLA until the next election. 

"I feel sad. I feel it's an end of an era to have a really strong MLA for St. Boniface and a very respectful and well-meaning, and a lot of action, premier for our province," Kuzemczak said.

Longtime St. Boniface resident Gail O'Keefe said she doesn't pay much attention to politics — but she liked Selinger. 

"I thought he was a good leader," she said Wednesday. "He seemed to always be talking about things … he seemed interested in what was going on."

'No particular rush' for next step

When he rose to address the House for the last time, Selinger cracked a joke.

"You always know your career's coming to an end when everybody's being nice to you," he said.

Former premier Greg Selinger waves goodbye

4 years ago
Duration 2:18
Greg Selinger bid goodbye to a nearly 30-year career in politics Wednesday.

His address became more serious as he thanked everyone working at the Manitoba Legislature, from the MLAs to the security and maintenance staff, and, finally, his family. His voice shook with emotion at some points during the statement.

After leaving the House to a standing ovation, Selinger told reporters he's had "some offers" for post-politics work, but he's not in a rush to make plans.

"It's never a bad thing … just to have time with yourself, with your family, with your friends, with your community, to connect to people that you haven't been able to pay attention to because you've been focused on getting things done," he said.

"So I look forward to all those opportunities. And yes, there'll be other things that come along, but I feel no particular rush to have to rush into something new right away."

Does he have any regrets?

"You're always going to have regrets. There's always things you wish you could have done better. I'm sure I'll spend some time thinking about that," he said.

"You only wish you could've done more on certain files, to move things along faster, to be able to allocate more resources to it. But one of the things I've learned is that the most creative solutions are born out of constraints."

RAW: Greg Selinger bids goodbye to politics

4 years ago
Duration 8:17
Former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger spoke to reporters in Manitoba's legislature after making his final, emotional address to the House.