Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger staying on despite leadership questions

Provincial NDP has been sinking in polls ever since provincial sales tax increase

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG – Greg Selinger says he is staying on as Manitoba premier despite questions from within his cabinet over his leadership.

Selinger says he has spoken to ministers who have been openly suggesting he consider his future.

“I’ve had a conversation with those folks today and I’ve said that we have to focus our energy on the priorities of Manitobans,” Selinger said Tuesday at a late-afternoon news conference.

“That’s where we need to be putting our efforts as cabinet ministers, as caucus members, and the conversation has to focus on those priorities.

“I am committed to that vision and I am planning to move forward.”

The New Democrats have been sinking badly in polls ever since Selinger’s government raised the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven in July 2013. The government also sidestepped a referendum that was required under law for any sales tax hike.

Selinger has remained adamant about running in the next election, slated for April 2016, but questions about his leadership surfaced within the last few days.

Health Minister Erin Selby said Tuesday that Selinger has had 18 months to persuade voters that the tax hike was the right decision, but he has failed to do so.

“They are angry. They feel he broke their trust and he hasn’t been able to mend that,” Selby said. “I think he has a lot to think about, but I am sure he will make the right decision for Manitoba.”

All NDP caucus members voted in the legislature to raise the tax, but as the anti-Selinger movement blew open this week, some tried to distance themselves.

Stan Struthers, the finance minister who raised the sales tax and who was later demoted to the municipal government portfolio, said the tax hike was Selinger’s idea.

“The premier’s been very clear that he’s taken responsibility for it. You can imagine that there were a lot of different views around the table, a lot of discussion about the step that we took.”

Selinger, 63, has repeatedly said he wants to see major projects, such as northern hydroelectric dams, come to fruition.

But there were signs of trouble in last week’s Winnipeg mayoral election, when longtime New Democrat Judy Wasylycia-Leis finished a distant second to winner Brian Bowman.

Internal dissent became public this week when Becky Barrett, a former cabinet colleague who still sits on the NDP executive, said Selinger had to consider whether to quit in light of ongoing low poll numbers.

Cabinet ministers soon followed suit, including Justice Minister Andrew Swan.

“There’s a lot of growing evidence out there that there are concerns with the premier’s leadership. I’m very concerned that discussion of those concerns is getting in the way of us being able to talk about the things we’ve accomplished,” Swan said.

“The premier has a very difficult decision to make based on the evidence that’s been put in front of him.”

Selinger has garnered firm support in some quarters.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said earlier this week she backs Selinger “100 per cent” and added that raising the sales tax has paid off. Rosann Wowchuk, a former finance minister who now co-chairs the premier’s election planning committee, also backed the premier.

The NDP has been in power since 1999, and captured 46 per cent of the popular vote in the 2011 election.

Recent opinion polls suggest that support is now in the low-30s and well behind the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.

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