Dead. Man. Walking. How else to describe Greg Selinger’s pyrrhic victory after this weekend’s NDP leadership convention? The entire fiasco was unnecessary; the panicked gambit of a man desperate to keep his hands on the wheel even as the ship sinks. And rest assured, the ship is sinking.
In 1981, following a drubbing at the ballot box, then PC Leader Joe Clark faced a leadership review from his party. It was not a leadership race, but merely a pro forma party poll to gauge whether or not to trigger a leadership convention. Clark received 66.5 per cent support. Two years later, at their national convention, he faced a second such review. He earned the support of 66.9 per cent of delegates. Yet, despite earning the support of two-thirds of his party, Clark felt the support of less than 75 per cent of delegates meaning he could not in good conscience continue on as leader. He called a leadership contest, in which he lost on the fourth ballot to Brian Mulroney.
Greg Selinger received 36 per cent on the first ballot, and barely 51 per cent on the second. And yet, having already established he is incapable of shame, Greg Selinger happily accepted the result and carries on. Like that soldier in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail—limbless, blood everywhere, convinced he can still fight.
Yes, Theresa Oswald’s actions—violating Cabinet solidarity, openly calling the Premier’s leadership into question—are no less shameless than Selinger’s own behaviour. Indeed, Oswald, along with her mutinous colleagues, are as much to blame for the NDP’s fatal wounds. Still, Greg Selinger was and remains the Premier. And the manner in which he has chosen to handle this shambolic mess since it unravelled last fall speaks volumes about his fitness for leadership. Frankly, he’s about as fit for the job as Homer Simpson in that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer deliberately gains weight to claim disability.
Unbelievably, Greg Selinger still has a shot—thanks largely to Brian Pallister’s own unpalatability. In any other scenario, in a province with capable politicians, Greg Selinger’s NDP would be staring down utter annihilation at the next general election. Tragically for democracy, after this weekend’s embarrassing display, that isn’t so. Even though nearly half of New Democrats preferred a traitorous mutineer, Manitobans might give them a sixth mandate rather than hand the keys over to Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives. Talk about being through the looking glass.
Still, just because the NDP faces a weak, small-minded opposition doesn’t mean they needed to give themselves such an extraordinary handicap. This isn’t golf.
It is the era of shameless politics, however. Where no amount of ignominy, scandal or deceit prompts a thoughtful walk in the snow. Where a Mayor can be caught on video smoking crack cocaine, publicly admit to doing so, then carry on with wanton disregard for the public’s trust. Or where a premier, having raised a tax he said he wouldn’t raise, with near-single-digit approval ratings, and seeing a third of his cabinet resign in protest, calls a leadership contest for a job he already holds thinking doing so is preferable to preserving what little dignity he has and what little integrity his party has left by resigning. Shameless.
But, lest we forget Gary Filmon! Invoking a twenty-year-old bogey man most barely remember (who, it should be noted, publicly endorsed Brian Bowman during the last municipal election). Pretending “hallway medicine” and the WRHA’s failure to meet any of its own benchmarks are the previous government’s fault. Suggesting record levels of poverty, children in state care, a dearth of affordable childcare spaces and the highest base provincial income tax rate in Canada are a record of accomplishment that would be in jeopardy if the NDP aren’t re-elected. Shameless.
These are dark days for the progressive movement. For those who genuinely care about such things, Greg Selinger’s win on the weekend spells disaster. (Oswald’s win, though preferable, would not have been much better.) Now, every time New Democrats invoke the damages a Brian Pallister government would inflict upon this province, they must remember it was they who lay down the red carpet and handed him the keys. Shame.
Originally published on Spectator Tribune.