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While it was overshadowed by the provincial budget tabled the following day, the Premier’s decision to shuffle his cabinet on April 29th ought to have raised more eyebrows. After all, this was Greg Selinger’s first major ministerial re-org since ekeing out a pyrrhic victory as party leader.

Unsurprisingly, most attention was paid to who among the “gang of five” would be welcomed back into the fold and what he would do with his leadership opponents. For the record, Selinger readmitted Steve Ashton, offered to do the same for Theresa Oswald but was rebuffed and otherwise ignored Jennifer Howard, Erin Selby, Stan Struthers and Andrew Swan. Perhaps the gang should have sworn that Pledge of Solidarity, after all. Though it is doubtful any of them would have wanted to rejoin the fold. Something about rearranging metaphorical deck chairs on the proverbial ship comes to mind.

However, it was Selinger’s decision to promote Kerri Irvin-Ross, embattled Minister of Family Services, to Deputy Premier that truly surprised. Why assign her additional duties when she can barely handle her existing ones? Of all the portfolios requiring razor-sharp attention and complete focus, surely it is the one that includes the province’s Child and Family Services agency.

Irvin-Ross’ iron-clad loyalty to the Premier during last fall’s internecine brouhaha likely factored into his decision to reward her with such a prestigious post. Deputy Premiers, like Deputy Prime Ministers, are not necessary positions in our Westminster system. They are instead doled out for political or partisan purposes; rarely do they come with any sort of operational responsibility. It remains unclear whether or not it does with Irvin-Ross’ appointment.

Still, even if the post is entirely ceremonial, which would allow Irvin-Ross to to dedicate 100 percent of her time to underperforming as Family Services Minister, it is bizarre the Premier would choose to fete such a failure.

Yes, Kerri Irvin-Ross inherited a toxic portfolio. The problems plaguing her ministry and its related agencies weren’t created overnight and won’t be solved tomorrow. They will, however, require a degree of skill she has yet to demonstrate.

By now everyone is familiar with the raft of tragedies that have befallen children in CFS care. The drugs. The prostitution. The sexual assaults. The murder. Heartbreaking stories at the confluence of poverty, addiction, abuse, exploitation and structural racism. There is little doubt Ms. Irvin-Ross hasn’t been touched by these stories — who hasn’t been? — but her compassion hasn’t translated into action.

Indeed, the number of children in care has skyrocketed. Despite promises to end the practice, the use of motels to house vulnerable children and teens continues apace. The foster care system is woefully inadequate and its bed registry well behind schedule. One of the key recommendations from the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry to require all those involved in social work to register with the province has been ignored. And the Minister responsible for this mess has yet to set foot in even one of these hotels housing kids.

But it isn’t just Irvin-Ross’ inability to affect positive momentum; she has also demonstrated a serious lack of knowledge about her own portfolio. Despite having been on the job for over a year, when asked in the wake of Tina Fontaine’s death about her department’s $8 million contract with private company, Complete Care, to supervise children in hotels, she remained uninformed. She had no idea the company even existed, despite it receiving the lion’s share of her department’s $13.4 million worth of contracts to just three private care providers.

Even if Ms. Irvin-Ross had been ignorant about the specifics, that she did not think to inform herself about such details before speaking publicly about the matter suggests she simply isn’t up to the job. And nothing she has done since would suggest otherwise. And yet, in Greg Selinger’s government that kind of performance nets a promotion. Hashtag head-shake.

Ministerial accountability used to be a thing. A big deal. An integral element of Cabinet government. It meant minsters were ultimately responsible for the performance of their respective departments. And indeed, there was a time when ministers would actually resign on principle if their department was found to have failed in some fashion. Or they were fired. Today, in Manitoba at least, those ministers are promoted.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

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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.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

Greg Selinger is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief today. Steve Ashton’s announcement that he, too, will seek the premiership following Theresa Oswald’s decision to do the same has given Selinger the wiggle room he needs to salvage a victory from the wreckage that is his leadership contest. With both Ashton and Oswald now vying for disaffected New Democrat supporters, Selinger’s threshold for a win has dropped dramatically.

Theresa Oswald alone presented a much more credible threat to Selinger’s position: after all, Oswald along with four of her senior cabinet colleagues resigned this fall in protest of his continued premiership. Blaming Selinger for hiking the PST, for jeopardizing yet another electoral victory, for his overall intransigence, Oswald was to be the lightning rod for all those disenchanted with the premier’s reign. Never mind the cabal’s own hypocrisy—having voted for that PST hike when given the chance—or their utter disregard for the principle of cabinet solidarity that underpins our very system of government; they finally said what so many within the NDP and, indeed, Manitobans across the province had already concluded: Greg Selinger is a loser.

Ashton, by contrast, remained silent until the rules had been drawn up, the lay of the land clear, his ducks no doubt in a row. Having lost to Selinger in the last leadership race in 2009, like so many aspirants to the top political jobs, he has undoubtedly kept his team assembled, kept hope alive. And so Steve Ashton rides again, northern Manitoba’s own Don Quixote.

Even if by some miracle Ashton were to eke out a win at the leadership contest in March, of the three candidates he is least likely to retain “Fortress Winnipeg” in the next election. Ashton simply has no traction in southern Manitoba or within the city; moreover, as yet another gray-haired white guy he does not represent the kind of radical change the NDP requires to convince Manitobans they deserve another mandate. Theresa Oswald, on the other hand, is the New Democrats’ best shot. It is a weak one to be sure, but as an articulate woman she could attempt to cast herself in the same class as Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne and BC’s Christy Clark; a compelling counterpoint to the Progressive Conservatives’ Brian Pallister.

While even Oswald is unlikely to keep the NDP in government come the next election, having her at the helm of the beleaguered party would make for a much more spirited election: instead of it being about Selinger being terrible, or Ashton desperately trying to answer Winnipeggers’ repeated questions of “Steve Who?”, the election might actually be about the NDP’s sixteen-year track record, on health care in particular. After all, before being shuffled to “Jobs and the Economy” in 2013, Oswald had held the health portfolio longer than any other provincial politician in Canada. For nearly a decade, Theresa Oswald was Manitoba’s Minister of Health.

For her current leadership campaign, Oswald has attempted to portray hers as one about vision and principle; it ought to be about her tenure at the helm of our public health system. Is she prepared to run on that record? Fight an election with that record?

It would be nice to see her try. After all, Manitobans need a full and honest debate about our public health system. Aside from the countless “critical incidents” documented by the WRHA, there are the wait times (some of the worst in the country), the costs (growing seemingly exponentially), the inconsistencies in care (between urban and rural communities, even between Winnipeg-area hospitals), and the shameful lack of accountability by the WRHA (blaming “the system” for the deaths of people like Brian Sinclair).

To many, our public health care system is broken. How do we fix it when the province is drowning in debt, already taxing residents at some of the highest levels in the country, the economy merely sputtering? How do we ensure it will be able to cope with the coming seismic demographic shift marked by that glut of Baby Boomers hurtling towards their final, often costliest years? How many other services are we prepared to sacrifice to sustain our public health care system as revenues decrease and costs keep rising, with more patients in care and less people working?

The next provincial election when it comes ought to answer these questions. Oswald would be best placed to provide the NDP’s response—however tired, flawed, and deserving of rejection it might be.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

It has been a month since five of Greg Selinger’s senior-most ministers resigned from his Cabinet in protest of his continued premiership. What has passed for leadership from Selinger since then has been paltry: the reek of desperation wafting from his offices at 450 Broadway and that of his party’s on Portage Avenue rival that of a rendering plant. A lingering, odious stench. Unlike the plant, however, which ultimately produces something of value, there is little doubt anything good can come from the current quagmire in which Selinger now finds himself sinking ever further.

In the latest turn in this sad saga—equal measures Kafkaesque and Shakespearean—the 25 members of the NDP provincial executive have determined there is nothing in law to compel the Premier’s resignation during the leadership contest he has called for himself. Whereas leadership aspirants were required to resign their ministerial posts to run in the contest to replace Gary Doer in 2009, it would now seem such a requirement was borne out of an agreement in principle, rather than any sort of legislative necessity. And so the NDP executive have concluded Selinger may continue in his role as Premier whilst at the same time vying for the role of, well, Premier.

Aside from this helpful legal clarification delivered on behalf of the NDP board by party president Ellen Olfert, little else about the contest has been shared. Indeed, the party has been woefully, arrogantly silent on the matter, leaving a slew of unanswered but important questions hanging in the air like the fetid smell of rendered pork offal.

What about current Ministers of the Crown? Will they be allowed to remain in Cabinet if they wish to contest the premiership, or will they be held to a different set of rules than the Premier himself? Either way, again, how can our Cabinet Government possibly be expected to function?

What about the Premier? Will he be allowed to campaign for the job (he already holds) during regular business hours? Will he be allowed to discuss his leadership campaign during Cabinet meetings, within caucus, around his own boardroom table?

What percentage of his day will be devoted to, say, governing and what percentage to campaigning? 80/20? 70/30? 50/50? At what point does doing one affect his ability to properly do the other?

Will those political aides working for him in his role as Premier be allowed to work for him in his role as candidate? Will they recuse themselves on an ad-hoc basis, or take a leave of absence every other business day? Or will it be mornings for the Premier, afternoons for the candidate? Perhaps he will have two sets of staff? But who will liaise between them, and what percentage of that person’s salary will be covered by the NDP?

More seriously, while no legal precedent exists to force the Premier from office during his bid for the job he already holds, does existing election financing legislation offer any sort of precedent or guidance when spelling out the rules that might govern his efforts to raise money to finance that bid? Given all those order-in-council appointments at his disposal, what sort of safeguards exist to ensure monies raised by his campaign will be secured transparently? Is it even possible for candidate Selinger to raise money without the appearance of quid pro quo?

So many questions, so few answers. And still the NDP seems to insist this matter does not concern Manitobans. To them, it is merely a party matter to be resolved by that party’s members. Nonsense.

Then again, why should Manitobans expect anything more from a Premier and a political party so desperate to retain their grip on power they have abandoned any sense of principle, honour or humility?

Make no mistake: Selinger’s detractors within the NDP are no better. Not a single member of the NDP caucus voted against the increase in the PST that the rebel cabal has since cited as a reason for their shocking display of disloyalty and disregard for the sacrosanct principle of cabinet solidarity. Furthermore, having already established they had lost confidence in the Premier and the government he leads when they unceremoniously resigned from his cabinet, they promptly voted with the Premier and that government on a motion of non-confidence tabled by the Leader of the Opposition.

Such are the actions of the shamelessly hypocritical, utterly consumed by hubris, motivated entirely by flagrant self-interest. The 2015 provincial election cannot come soon enough.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

Greg Selinger is making history. And not just in Manitoba. The current crises of leadership and governance that have beset his administration are without precedent in Canada, or indeed in any modern Westminster-style parliament. How the beleaguered Premier has chosen to respond to the situation at 450 Broadway also speaks volumes about his political acumen (it is terrible) and his ability to lead the government (he cannot).

Despite repeated claims to the contrary, it is neither acceptable nor factual for NDP brass to insist the situation is run-of-the-mill party politics. Ministerial resignations are a rare thing, especially in Canada. Having five of a cabinet’s senior-most ministers resign en masse is rarer still. That they do so because they’ve lost confidence in their prime minister is unheard of. This alone ought to have compelled Selinger’s resignation. Ought to, but didn’t.

No, Greg Selinger soldiers on — or so he would have you to see it. The plucky premier weathering the storm! Rising to the occasion! Showing strength in the face of adversity! Pick your metaphor, they’re all delusions. Never before has a sitting prime minister held a leadership contest in which he or she themselves will compete. It isn’t just bizarre, it’s idiotic.

The questions Selinger’s contest raises are many and worrisome, especially since he has already made plain he won’t be resigning from his own cabinet post (as leadership aspirants were required to do in 2009) while running for the job he already occupies.

Will his Ministers be required to pledge their loyalty, or at least their neutrality in this contest? If not, how can our Cabinet Government possibly function? If so, doesn’t that only reinforce the weakness of his position?

For the New Democratic caucus, surely every vote his government brings forward in the legislature is a vote for or against his continued leadership. For those who no longer have confidence in Selinger, why wait until March of 2015 to register their displeasure? Party loyalty? That went out the window when Oswald, Swan, Struthers, Howard and Selby violated the principle of cabinet solidarity. Fear of losing confidence of the entire legislature, triggering the dissolution of the parliament and a snap election? Exactly.

Therein lies the rub. It isn’t just Greg Selinger who thinks he can have it both ways. His party also seem to be of the mind they can continue to claim the moral authority to govern whilst holding a contest that cuts to the very heart of their ability to do so: who should lead them. Which is why it is no longer acceptable to treat the imbroglio on Broadway as a party matter; it’s a parliamentary matter and, in the absence of an election, ought to be dealt with by that body.

Regrettably, while Canada has imported most of its parliamentary conventions from the Palace of Westminster, it neglected to adopt one of its most crucial: the ability for a party’s parliamentary caucus members to oust their parliamentary leader.

Some, no doubt those loyal to Selinger, would argue this would be “undemocratic” — that it isn’t for the caucus to determine who should lead the party; it should be the members. Except what’s democratic about party members determining who should be premier? Sure, during elections in a roundabout way voters get to make that determination, but what about in between them as in now during this extraordinary situation unfolding in Manitoba?

The problem, it would seem, is that we do not draw a distinction between party leader and parliamentary leader — even though, for the purposes of governing, the distinction is profound.

Had the NDP caucus had the authority to remove Selinger from his post, the current crises would likely have been over by now. Either Selinger would’ve been removed and a new parliamentary leader installed, or he would’ve remained and any further questions about his fitness to lead put to rest until the general election. Instead, we are now faced with the prospect of four more months of further speculation, doubt, instability and drift until the NDP party holds its conference in March. Then what? The noblest thing Greg Selinger could have done — and should have done — is call an election now. Even more democratic than allowing his parliamentary caucus to determine his fate would have been to allow all Manitobans to do so.

It should be said: the NDP alone can’t be blamed for the way in which this situation is being managed. It’s not entirely implausible another party would have handled it any differently, especially if the alternative for that party was being relegated to the opposition benches (as it is for the New Democrats). No, it has been in every major party’s interests, in the provinces and in Ottawa, to exert maximum control over the functions of parliament.

What this situation further demonstrates, however, is that Canada’s major political parties can no longer be trusted to manage the affairs of the nation’s parliaments. Consider how the House of Commons is choosing to address serious allegations of sexual harassment between sitting MPs: behind closed doors. As with the Selinger fiasco, the situation in Ottawa isn’t an internal party matter; it’s a matter for us all.

Sadly, unless or until Canada’s political parties agree to divest themselves of at least some of their authority over their own affairs, the situation — be it in Manitoba, or in Ottawa — will not change. Perhaps voters in Manitoba and across Canada will take up the charge in 2015. They would be wise to do so.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

Greg Selinger will not lead Manitoba’s NDP into the next election. Despite his intention to do just that, articulated at a hastily organized press conference with a rag-tag collection of caucus members days ago, his tenure at the helm of the New Democratic Party in Manitoba is all but over. It’s a matter of formality now—and a truly ignominious one at that.

Cabinet solidarity is a fundamental principle of our style of government. At its root, it means differences that may arise around the Cabinet table stay there. Like what happens in Las Vegas; though less Wynn and more Westminster. Indeed, maintaining solidarity is paramount: to the public, Cabinet-led governments must remain united.

This principle was shattered recently by a cabal of Selinger’s most senior ministers, including Manitoba’s Ministers of Finance, of Health, and of Jobs and the Economy (whatever that means).

Of course, the cracks had already started to show long before Jennifer Howard, Theresa Oswald, Stan Struthers, Erin Selby and Andrew Swan all intimated they’d lost confidence in their prime Minister. Whispers have been circulating through the halls of the Manitoba Legislature for months.

He has to go.
He’s a liability.
We’re going to lose if he stays.

In some circles there’s talk a deal had been reached as early as the spring that would have seen the Premier step aside. No dice.

And so Manitobans now find themselves in the peculiar situation of seeing firsthand what an attempted coup d’etat looks like, Westminster style. Admittedly, though, this one is about as sophisticated as a secondary school student council election.

Not that the usurpers have been held to account for their part in this unfolding fiasco. No, the overarching story remains: Selinger is no longer fit to lead. This may well be true. In fact, if his (in)action since his Cabinet’s solidarity was breached is any indication, it’s absolutely true: Selinger has yet to do anything to reprimand—let alone dismiss—those members of his Cabinet who’ve violated this sacred trust.

Which is why it is all but certain he will not lead the NDP into the next election.

Sadly, the story won’t end with his departure, when it comes. Nor should it. Those individuals, named and unnamed, who covet the Premiership ought to be held to account for their remarkable acts of disloyalty and dishonour. Moreover, voters ought not give a free pass to whomever assumes the helm of Manitoba’s governing party ahead of the next election (which will surely occur well past the legislated date). As it will likely be a member of the current government, he or she ought to be made to wear the same very heavy mantle Selinger donned when he replaced Gary Doer. They will, after all, be of the same party and leading the same government Selinger led until his humiliating exit, when it comes.

Such brazen acts of political insubordination aren’t new. Nor are they unique to the NDP or to Manitoba. Thankfully, though, they remain uncommon. And for good reason. Because, despite pleadings from NDP insiders and the Premier himself this is an internal party matter, the fact remains this breach of Cabinet solidarity strikes at the very heart of government and ought to concern every Manitoban. How, for example, can the government possibly function when 5 of its Ministers of the Crown refuse to acknowledge the Premier’s role as Prime Minister? How can we possibly expect our Cabinet-style government to lead if the Cabinet itself is aflame?

It can’t. We can’t. It won’t. It doesn’t.

Even though Ministers Howard, Selby, Struthers, Oswald and Swan are as much to blame for the current imbroglio embroiling Manitoba’s Legislature, Greg Selinger will pay the political price.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.