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Eighteen Months and One Percent

November 2, 2014 9:40 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman

Greg Selinger

Premier Greg Selinger (DAVE BAXTER / CHRISD.CA FILE)

Eighteen months. It has been that long since the provincial NDP government raised the PST by one percent. Eighteen months seems to be how long it has taken for dissention among Manitobans as a whole to grow and spread into the ranks of the NDP government. While the opposition party’s lawsuit to reverse the illegal tax increase failed, they might still win in the end.

Recent polls have shown that only 30 percent of Manitobans support the NDP, while 42 percent support the opposition Tories. If that wasn’t enough, last week’s municipal elections proved to be a referendum of sorts on the NDP. The results don’t look good for the province’s governing party.

In last week’s municipal elections, Winnipeggers overwhelmingly chose right-leaning Brian Bowman (47.5 percent), over former NDP Member of Parliament Judy Wasylycia-Leis (24.9 percent). The picture was the same in Brandon, with left leaning incumbent Shari Decter Hirst getting less than half the votes of her conservative challenger, Rick Chrest.

Despite having little support in rural Manitoba, the NDP has remained in power since 1999 thanks to the continued support of voters in Winnipeg and northern Manitoba. While policies that alienated rural Manitobans in general and farmers in particular did little to undermine support for the party, the PST decision was different. The PST increase, which also included applying sales tax to goods and services that had been previously exempt, alienated all Manitobans. Not only were we paying one percent more on most of our purchases, we were now paying eight percent more on our previously exempt purchases of insurance and hair cuts.

That backstory brings us to this week, when premier Greg Selinger is facing more calls for his resignation. This time, they are coming from within his own party.

Last week, Becky Barrett, a former cabinet minister and current provincial NDP executive member, told CJOB that the premier should think hard about staying in his post. She noted that Manitobans have lost their trust in the party and its leader and that Selinger has been unable to win it back.

This week, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers and Finance Minister Jennifer Howard also suggested that Selinger should consider his future. The paper is reporting that about half of the party’s MLAs have asked him to resign before the end of the year. These members are concerned because there appears to be no plan to boost support for the party and no acknowledgement that a plan is necessary.

With the dissent increasing, Selinger has been keeping a low profile. On Monday, he didn’t attend a gala at which he was expected and on Tuesday, he cancelled the NDP cabinet meeting. With a provincial election expected in April 2016, experts are saying that Selinger has until Christmas to step down or dramatically turn things around.

With such dissent and little in the way of good news expected, we will all be watching the provincial capital in the months to come. The premier has continued to hold the support of his cabinet overall, but as high profile ministers step away from the premier, it will be hard to stop the bleeding.

Sellinger won the party’s leadership in October 2009 and I would be very surprised if he is still the leader when Manitobans next go to the polls. The Selinger government has had a five-year run, it’s time for another vision of what the province is, and more importantly, what it can become.