Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger will face party leadership vote in March
Announcement comes after weeks of pressure calling for Manitoba's premier to step down
Embattled Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger will face a party leadership vote at the provincial NDP's annual convention in March — the end result of an open revolt by high-profile caucus and party executive members.
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Selinger's press secretary, Sally Housser, said Sunday that Selinger made the offer to the party executive via conference call a day earlier as a way to address a public split in the NDP that has included the resignation of five senior cabinet ministers.
Details of the vote had yet to be worked out, and Selinger refused interview requests Sunday. He told the Winnipeg Free Press Saturday night the leadership vote would allow his opponents to run against him.
"This will be a chance for... me to give voice to why I think I should be leader and anybody else that wishes to do that as well," he told the newspaper.
Selinger appeared to have little choice in the matter, given the number of people who oppose him, a political analyst said
"I think it's action he had to take," Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba, said Sunday.
Several caucus members and two people who sit on the party executive have openly called on Selinger to consider resigning in the week of continued low polling numbers and controversy over an increase in the provincial sales tax last year.
Many caucus members and party officials have refused to say whether they support the premier. One party source told The Canadian Press last week that during a caucus retreat in September, half of the New Democrat members of the legislature wanted Selinger to step down.
Under the NDP constitution, Selinger could have faced a leadership review at the party's convention even if he didn't agree to one. A 2013 change to the party constitution allows for a vote on the leadership every year. The NDP council, which meets next month and includes anti-Selinger members of the executive, can also force a leadership convention at any time.
The party's 57 constituency associations can also force a leadership race by a majority vote.
The turmoil has raised more questions about the NDP's chances of winning the next election, slated for April, 2016. Selinger served as finance minister for 10 years before replacing Gary Doer in the premier's chair in 2009. Selinger led the NDP to a record 37 of 57 legislature seats in the 2011 election, but the government soon ran into controversy.
In 2012, the government expanded the provincial sales tax to cover new items such as home insurance. A year later, the government raised the tax to eight per cent from seven — something Selinger had specifically said he would not do during the election campaign. The NDP has been well behind the Opposition Progressive Conservatives ever since.
The division within NDP ranks erupted two weeks ago, when five of Selinger's most senior cabinet ministers went public with the suggestion he consider resigning. Selinger vowed to stay on and lead the party into the next election.
The cabinet ministers — including Jennifer Howard in Finance, Andrew Swan in Justice and Erin Selby in Health — then resigned from their portfolios but remain in the NDP caucus.
The party executive met Saturday to try to find a way to address the crisis. Selinger did not attend in person but brought up the leadership vote via conference call.
Thomas said it is unlikely the NDP can heal the rift and shoring up public support remains to be seen.
"Whether everything will happen soon enough to contain some of the damage that's being done I don't know."
The ball now appears to be in the court of the five rebel cabinet ministers if they want to replace Selinger with one of their own. They may face resentment from some grassroots party members, Thomas said.
"There are undoubtedly a lot of people who subscribe to the view that politics is all about team play, and you're not a team player if you go out and attack your leader."
Selinger has not been seen since he shuffled cabinet on Nov. 3 and he has declined repeated requests for an interview with CBC News.
With files from CBC News