WINNIPEG – Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger will lead his divided NDP into next year’s election after barely winning the support of party delegates in a hard-fought leadership race.
Selinger beat former health minister Theresa Oswald by 33 votes on the second ballot of a leadership campaign on Sunday that was prompted by an internal revolt within the governing NDP. Selinger took just over 51 per cent of the vote with 759 ballots while Oswald — who resigned from cabinet after calling for Selinger to step down — won 49 per cent.
“I know it started out rough but I think we’ve come out of this stronger,” Selinger told reporters. “Sure, there have been bumps and grinds along the way and there are lots of specific issues that people were unhappy about but, at the end of the day, you saw a good atmosphere in the room. I think that bodes well for the future.”
Selinger was forced into the leadership race after Oswald and four other senior cabinet ministers called on him to resign last October, as the party slumped in opinion polls. Former infrastructure minister Steve Ashton, who ran against Selinger for the leadership in 2009, was dropped from the race after finishing last on the first ballot.
He did not endorse either candidate, leaving supporters to “use their best judgement.”
Selinger has faced public anger since raising the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven in 2013 after promising not to during the last election. Ashton promised to hold a referendum on the tax hike while Oswald said she was open to repealing the tax earlier than promised.
Unlike his opponents, Selinger made few promises and kept a low profile during the leadership campaign, saying he was preoccupied with governing.
He wouldn’t say what role Oswald would have in his government going forward.
“The party will come together,” he said.
Although Oswald said she respected the result, she wouldn’t say if she will run again in the next election or if she would sit in a Selinger cabinet again. But she said she will work to unite the party despite the “grave concerns” she had about Selinger’s leadership months earlier.
“If that hand is extended, I’ve made a promise to New Democrats across this province that I will do my best and work together and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Oswald said following a tearful hug with her young son.
“I believe I did the very best I could and it didn’t go my way today. But I promised the members I’m going to work hard.”
Just a few hours earlier, Oswald told delegates that voters leaning toward voting Conservative next time are looking for a change and could be wooed back with a new leader. Others felt Selinger deserved to be given a chance to lead the party into the next election.
Selinger, who took over from Gary Doer, led the party to its fourth straight majority in 2011 but has been flagging in the polls ever since. Political observers say he faces an uphill battle in the next election, slated for April, 2016.
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba, said the last five months have given Conservative Leader Brian Pallister a wealth of political ammunition for the coming campaign.
“Part of Mr. Pallister’s attack will be to say here is a premier who is not even trusted by his most senior political colleagues in cabinet and caucus,” Thomas said. “With rank-and-file members, he could only get a little over 50 per cent of the vote in a leadership convention. That’s not a very strong mandate to go forward.”