Manitoba NDP turmoil sees some key staff members head for Alberta

The rise of Alberta's New Democrats is prompting a growing number of Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger's key staff members to head west.
Several former Manitoba NDP brass are heading to Alberta for new jobs. ( John Woods/Canadian Press)

The rise of Alberta's New Democrats is prompting a growing number of Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger's key staff members to head west.

It's a study in contrasts — the ascendant Alberta NDP making history, compared to a Manitoba NDP government that has suffered from infighting and low polling numbers after 15 years in power.

Selinger started losing top advisers last December, after five senior cabinet ministers challenged his leadership in a contest he ended up winning by the narrowest of margins.

His chief of staff, his caucus director, his communications chief and more parted ways with the premier in the ensuing months.

Some ended up in Alberta, where the NDP won power for the first time earlier this month.

Sally Housser, who was Selinger's press secretary, took on the same role for Rachel Notley during the Alberta election. She has since signed on with a public relations firm doing work in Alberta.

Selinger's top adviser, Anna Rothney, and his caucus director, Jen Anthony, have taken up roles with the Alberta NDP.

The exodus continued this week, as Peter Dalla-Vicenza, Selinger's acting issues management director, and Brent Dancey, a special adviser to cabinet on energy issues, served notice they are leaving to work in Alberta.

Some of those who left also played key roles in successful Manitoba NDP election campaigns in 2007 and 2011. The next election is slated for April.

But Selinger's new chief of staff, Jeremy Read, said there is no reason to worry. Younger staffers who have learned from the departed staff are moving up the chain.

"A number of (younger people) that they've mentored through a couple of campaigns are around, and are experienced and talented people," he said.

Royce Koop, who teaches political science at the University of Manitoba, said it's not unusual for governments to lose staff, but the volume of departures may be a sign that staffers are worried about the Manitoba NDP's chances.

"It certainly would seem to indicate that people don't have as much confidence in (Selinger's) ability to win the next election as perhaps they used to, but ... people do come and go out of these jobs."

The departures have stirred up controversy in Manitoba because seven of the workers who left in recent months received a total of $670,000 in severance payments — an amount the Opposition has called the public price tag of the NDP's inner turmoil.

Dalla-Vicenza and Dancey did not receive any severance, Read said.