Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 20, 2014
At a time when their poll numbers continue to slump, a face from the NDP’s past has reappeared in the vicinity of the party he once manned for more than a decade.
Now to be entirely honest, the return of former premier Gary Doer to Manitoba was not to make a play for the reins of the beleaguered party, but more so to spend some time near old haunts over the holidays and make a couple of public appearances in the process.
There is little doubt the former premier and current Canadian ambassador to the United States would not be impressed with the current state of affairs on Broadway.
During his term, he took the NDP from far-flung Opposition status to successive majority governments and garnered almost rock star status as leader in the process. Doer and the NDP of the day were flying high in Manitoba and the future looked bright.
Fast-forward a handful of years and the party seems all but certain to be in the throes of defeat, with the latest polling numbers placing leader Greg Selinger dead last among his peers, only garnering in the high teens for popular support.
Selinger, as you know, has not been very open to change at the top and appears destined to steer the party toward one of the larger defeats in recent memory — or should his leadership fall, walk off into the political wilderness with his legacy somewhat tarnished by his final acts in office.
Gone are the days of optimism in the NDP and their united front, multi-point mantras — a group so solid, they welcomed the test of any and all who challenged them. This was our former premier’s party.
Now what remains is a splintered shell of what once was, a collection of powers pulling in different directions with dissension and would-be successors rife within their ranks.
By the time this column runs, there may be as many as two legitimate challengers to the premier’s leadership.
Former minister Theresa Oswald stated she is being wooed heavily by internal members to consider running. Joining her may be current cabinet minister and former leadership challenger Steve Ashton. Both are ready to lead and could pose some possibility for the party to challenge Brian Pallister and the Tories next time around.
The name that is absent, however, is one many believe represents the future of this party, the heir apparent to the legacy of the Gary Doer days — Jobs and Economy Minister Kevin Chief.
Chief is politically very smooth, has worked events publicly with Doer and represents a lot of what the future could hold for this party.
He has been very visible lately, including striking up a friendship and political tandem with right-leaning Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman. Both have been spotted at numerous events and announcements throughout the city and even spawned a humorous barb from Winnipeg Free Press columnists who shared a montage of the two set to the tune of “Happy Together” by the Turtles. Their budding political relationship brings the Winnipeg mayor closer to someone who very well could be a future premier.
Chief has already publicly stated he would not consider a run this time around as those close to him probably believe the party will take a significant bump before a rebound at the following election.
Chief’s time as leader seems still to be four years off and quite possibly will come following a Bowman re-election and a need for rejuvenation in the beleaguered NDP party. Both are young and pose a significant opportunity for aligned goals in the province and its largest city.
So where does that leave Brandon?
With any of the current leadership hopefuls, we will need to be extremely vocal to have our voice heard at the provincial level as the single NDP seat in this area may, for the first time in a while, truly be up for grabs.
Brandon West seems safe for the Tories as current MLA Reg Helwer has remained free from controversy and soldiered through his tasks.
Brandon East, though, is shaping up to be quite a race.
Longtime NDP MLA Drew Caldwell will have his hands full as the party’s infighting has done little in the way of helping their prospective candidates. The NDP’s challenge will be to shore up the support that got them where they are. If they are unable to do that the party who takes Brandon East may very well represent the team that eventually takes the province in 2016.