Stubborn to the last, Greg Selinger bows out of politics but chooses exit date

NDP MLA Greg Selinger leaves a legacy in the NDP in Manitoba. Finance minister, leader, stubborn politician.

Former premier leaving 'on my own initiative,' he says amid Stan Struthers's 'Minister Tickles' scandal

'People want you to go in a month, a year — yesterday,' Selinger says about timing his resignation. (CBC)

Many who covered him would say Greg Selinger was a politician with a remarkable grip on the files in his briefcase.

So perhaps it was the politics of the job and not the policy he mastered that underwrote the ends of his career.

Ultimately he did not leave the business on his own terms but he left on his own, some might say stubborn, feet.

Perhaps irony is the wrong word, but Selinger's leave-taking had nothing to do with a near-bankrupt Manitoba Hydro or a brand-new stadium that leaks or even a full-blown revolt in his own caucus. 

It was because his own party, self-styled as champions of women, failed to protect them in a workplace that should be the symbol of "respectful" for all others.

This is not to say for one minute that other political parties don't likely have similar ugly skeletons in their closets or that the NDP owns more than its share of the tarnish coming from abuse at the hands of men in power.

That microscope is being focused on business, media, academia and everywhere someone in power uses it inappropriately.

But the NDP was the government of the day and Greg Selinger was its leader.

Little is known of why the apparently consistent behaviour of then-cabinet Minister Stan Struthers could become common knowledge and yet not acted upon. The party has pledged to find out why and make sure it never happens again.

At his retirement announcement, Selinger was asked about that and his role in it. He responded by saying "would have, could have, should have. Those are all backward-looking."

He went on to say he supports the NDP's commission into what happened. No doubt he will, and must, be called on for his version of events.

Shannon VanRaes, a former NDP staffer who says she was subject to Stan Struthers's abusive behaviour, wasn't having a minute of Selinger's week of introspection and consultative behaviour.

"I think the phrase is 'a day late and a dollar short.' If there is a silver lining, there may now be enough oxygen in the room for there to finally be a serious discussion about sexual harassment in the province," VanRaes told CBC News.

In some ways Greg Selinger's exit from politics and his decision to wait a week before going are consistent with his character in the business. 
'I am leaving on my own initiative, but yes, there has been pushes,' said Selinger. (CBC News)

Buried in Selinger's briefcase is a lump of stubbornness as thick as any file. Ask NDP acolytes about the storm that enveloped the party in 2014. 

That fall, private pleas for him to step down as premier from some of the most influential members of his cabinet fell on deaf ears. 

Greg Selinger would not be pushed. 

It is useless to guess if the subsequent public revolt by some of his cabinet influenced voters in the subsequent 2016 election, but the wounds did push some bright lights in the party out the door and out of politics, forever.

The divisions were on full display at the party's first convention following that bruising election. And there at a table to one side was Selinger, slightly alone just as he was at his new backbench seat at the legislature.

Stubbornly not fading away

There was a modest echo of that stubbornness as Selinger announced he would resign, but not for almost two weeks, at Tuesday's press conference in the wake of the Struthers allegations.

In his outgoing remarks Selinger was asked if he had regrets. It's possible in those to see some of stubbornness of a man who climbed to the top of Manitoba's political hill.

"You always wish you could have done a little bit more, but there are constraints and you always have to work within those constraints. And that forces you to be as disciplined and focused as possible," Selinger said. 

Reporters who covered Selinger could note his relentless hold on the facts in the files in his briefcase and the stubborn will he brought to bear on his work, but it's unlikely any would say he was in it for himself or the archetype of a crass political animal.

Most would probably agree Greg Selinger was a decent person in a political world where some behaviour can be pretty crude.

At the end of his announcement to leave politics, he said something remarkably honest about politicians and political life. It's worth noting.

"We all represent everything that's good and bad about being a human being. All the ups and downs, the frailties, the strengths. But public life requires willing people to do it," Selinger said.

It's a interesting insight from a man stubborn enough to survive more than three decades of politics. 

Greg Selinger isn't gone yet. He chose March 7 as his final day as MLA.


Sean Kavanagh

Former CBC reporter

Sean Kavanagh was a reporter for CBC Manitoba from 2003-21. He covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections.