Theresa Oswald enters Manitoba NDP leadership race

Theresa Oswald officially entered the Manitoba NDP's leadership race today, filing her papers to seek Premier Greg Selinger's job.

Former health minister already has support of high-ranking party members

Theresa Oswald files papers for run at Manitoba NDP leadership. 2:27

Theresa Oswald officially entered the Manitoba NDP's leadership race today, filing her papers to seek Premier Greg Selinger's job.

"I offer renewal," she told reporters after registering.

Rumours had been circulating for days that Oswald, a former health minister under Selinger, would challenge the premier's leadership at the party's annual convention in March.

"I have made the decision to put my name forward to also take responsibility for the huge load of work that we need to do to bring us back together and to really face our true enemies, I suppose, in the next election and that's Brian Pallister and the Conservatives," she told CBC News earlier on Friday.

Some high-ranking NDP members have already thrown their support behind her, including former finance minister Eugene Kostyra, who says he has already signed her nomination papers.

Oswald, second from left, along with Andrew Swan, Jennifer Howard, Erin Selby and Stan Struthers, resigned from cabinet in early November after they questioned the leadership of Premier Greg Selinger. (Chris Glover/CBC)
​Kostyra said Oswald is the right person to help the NDP redeem itself following the internal revolt that rocked the party this fall.

"She would be most effective at taking on the Conservative leader and winning that next election.  That's basically it in a nutshell," he told CBC News late Thursday.

Former NDP presidents Lorraine Sigurdson and Carmen Neufeld have also said they will support Oswald.

"I think that definitely Theresa would be a much better candidate for a number of different reasons, and I think just having her at the helm would bring a lot of new fresh individuals into the party," Neufeld said.

Leadership candidates have until Jan. 6 to enter the race. The NDP's annual convention is scheduled for March 8 in Winnipeg.

Oswald: NDP in 'tumultuous times'

The turmoil within the NDP caucus began when Oswald and four other high-ranking New Democrats resigned from cabinet in early November, after Selinger refused to step down as leader.

The rebel ex-ministers, as well as some party bosses, had openly questioned Selinger's leadership amid public approval ratings that started plummeting after the provincial sales tax was raised in 2013.

"Certainly, we are going through some tumultuous times in the party and I absolutely take responsibility for my share in that, but the stakes in the next election are very, very high and we can see through the evidence that at present we are in a spot that we may not be as competitive as we want to be," Oswald said Friday.

Oswald would not say if she'll reverse the PST hike if she becomes premier.

"I don't think there's a Manitoban standing today that would say that the decision to raise the PST was handled smoothly," she said.

"I think it could have been done a lot better and that happens through consultation."

Everybody 'a little surprised,' says Selinger

Just this week, an Angus Reid poll pegged Selinger's approval rating at 17 per cent, putting him in dead last among all Canadian provincial premiers.

In a year-end interview with the CBC's Chris Glover on Thursday, Selinger said he did not see the internal revolt coming and it caught him off guard.

"I did not anticipate that it would take on the character that it did," Selinger said. "Everybody was, I think, felt a little surprised by it."

In a year-end interview with CBC News on Thursday, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said he worries that the rebellion within the provincial NDP is a distraction. (CBC)
The premier stopped short of calling the caucus revolt "political treason," as Canadian Union of Public Employees president Paul Moist did in an open letter earlier this month.

Selinger said it's too early for him to say what he would have done differently, but he suspects that everyone involved in the controversy will have some regrets.

"I think we'll all have regrets about this experience, I don't think there's any doubt about it," he said.

"I don't think there's anybody that's gone through this experience that feels it has been constructive or positive at this stage in the game."

Can Selinger lead NDP to next election?

Selinger plans to defend his leadership at next March's NDP convention.

Last month, he said he's "ready, willing and able to show why I was elected leader of the party by our members and elected Premier by Manitoba voters."

Suzanne Hrynyk, one of Selinger's campaign volunteers, said on Friday that although she has known Oswald for many years, she will support Selinger's bid to continue his work as premier.

Hrynyk told CBC News that Oswald was a capable health minister, but she believes Selinger is ready and committed to weather the controversy facing the NDP.

"I've been very pleased with Premier Selinger — with his performance, with his leadership that he's shown Manitobans, and also within the party — and I think that we have to look at his pattern and his history, and his history as a finance minister, so those are the reasons why I will continue to support him," Hrynyk said.

However Eugene Kostyra, an adviser to former premier Gary Doer and campaign adviser to Selinger in the last election, said the party needs someone who can lead the NDP to victory in the next provincial election.

"With the difficult choices that were made over the last while, he's worn them personally and, I think, put him in a position where he cannot win the next election," he said of Selinger.

Who else could challenge him?

In terms of who else within the NDP may challenge Selinger, there has been speculation that Steve Ashton and Kevin Chief might launch leadership bids.

Chief told CBC News he is currently busy focusing on his cabinet portfolios.

Raymond Hébert, a local political analyst, says Selinger can gain the advantage if Ashton or anyone else who has been critical of the premier enters the race.

"You've got two people who can rally the anti-Selinger vote, if I can describe it that way, and I think Mr. Selinger's chances of winning would be much better in a three-person race because then the anti-Selinger vote would be split," he said.

He added that the labour vote will likely play a significant role in the outcome of the leadership contest.

"Some labour leaders have already thrown their support behind Mr. Selinger, so that again is part of the dynamics that we'll have to be looking at," he said.

Both Hébert and Curtis Brown of Probe Research say whoever leads the NDP will have to carry the party's baggage, particularly the controversy surrounding the PST increase, into the next election, currently slated for 2016.

"The opposition and media are going to be reminding her about this," Brown said of Oswald.

"It's going to be, I think, a central issue to be discussed because really, in a lot of ways … that's been a large part of the catalyst for the NDP's decline in popularity over the last little while."


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