Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 27, 2015
She has a name synonymous with negative NDP election rhetoric in Manitoba and has a position many believe in a modern government should become obsolete.
Janice Filmon appears to be in for a bumpy ride as the newly minted lieutenant-governor of this province.
When it comes to politicking, the role of a lieutenant-governor is usually met with some confusion by everyday residents. Meanwhile, the New Democrats appeared last week to show disdain on the part of the government with which she is charged to act as the Queen’s representative.
At her official swearing-in ceremony, members of the media reported only 11 of the 37 elected NDP members were in attendance, while 15 of the 19 elected Progressive Conservatives attended the ceremony, which was marked with plenty of old-fashioned pomp of a constitutional monarchist-style government.
Filmon is the first female to take the role in this province since the 1980s and she becomes the fifth female lieutenant-governor currently serving in Canada. She is the chair of CancerCare Manitoba, once headed up the volunteer initiative A.L.I.V.E., is a University of Manitoba graduate, is a proud mother of four and finally, is the spouse of the former premier of Manitoba, Gary Filmon.
Therein, as they say, lies the rub.
Janice Filmon is now the symbolic head of state for a government that has for the past two decades used her husband as their proverbial goat on all issues Manitoba.
Blame has been cast squarely on the former premier’s shoulders for a plethora of perceived problems facing Manitobans — problems that have in the past included shortages of nurses, cuts to social programs, cuts to teachers, rollbacks of government services and the privatization of Crown corporations, just to name a few.
Gary Filmon has been the target of multiple rounds of attack ads, and long after his retirement, he remains the primary target of the NDP’s election machine. Anyone who doubts that the government has motive to use Filmon to continue to blame all of the province’s woes on need only speak to Hugh McFadyen — the former Progressive Conservative leader and Filmon minister — to know that the collateral damage of the former premier’s time still exists for politicians who lived through it.
There is no doubt that some of it was justified, and Gary Filmon, like any other politician or party head, knew full well that after that amount of time in power, the problems that plague governments begin to stick.
However, Janice’s appointment to the role of lieutenant-governor may take a time-tested advertising arrow out of the quiver of the NDP prior to an election.
Ideologically, there have to be some differences between Janice Filmon and Premier Greg Selinger, and in looking at the working relationship a premier and the symbolic head of state need to have, you wonder if old wounds die a bit harder this time around.
The NDP has batted the Filmon name around for far too long, and moving forward to try to dig out the running-with-scissors mantras of the past will be a bit more difficult — when realistically those mantras should be retired as New Democrats have been in power since 1999.
That said, the odds of the NDP fixing something that isn’t broken is unlikely. They will undoubtedly return to their time-tested strategies that made elections of the past so successful.
But with this appointment, at the very least, the premier and the party may be a bit more red-faced warning people of the problems Manitobans encounter with all things Filmon.
This government owed more to Janice Filmon and the lieutenant-governor’s position than to make the investiture an optional come-and-go tea type of event. Although the timing was not ideal, the NDP should have had more hands on deck, giving Filmon her due. The ceremony and the position, however symbolic, deserved that much. Appearing to mince politics on this event seems somewhat petty.
Officially, the party said the poor NDP turnout was due to the timing of the event and nothing more, Fridays being members’ days to be in their constituencies.
However, there had to be some prior knowledge that the ceremony would be taking place. The fact the premier did not deem it necessary to mandate his members to be present does not bode well moving forward for relationships many already believe are beyond salvaging.