Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 18, 2015
Either Greg Selinger will be remembered as the ultimate salesman for uniting a party with plenty of detractors, or he will be remembered as the one who let the wolves back in the farmyard.
In either case, the next year should be one to watch.
Fresh from a hush-hush retreat, the premier and the NDP have emerged stating they are rejuvenated and recharged for a political battle many are poised to undertake in short order. They also, without a doubt, took time during that retreat to ensure their messaging was on the same page ahead of the provincial budget to be delivered April 30.
Officially, the rebel MLAs were welcomed back into the NDP fold, and from the looks of some caucus photos posted online supporting the Winnipeg Jets, it appears most have tucked back in under the wing of their party.
Their return to “business as usual,” however, will be cannon fodder for the opposition, as the party’s schism will be easy pickings for the Progressive Conservatives come election time.
What may worry Selinger and others more is the number of current members who will choose not to run in 2016, and who they can count on to replace the likes of longtime MLA and former high-profile cabinet minister Jim Rondeau, who is leaving political office citing the lack of drive he still had for the position.
In announcing his exit, Rondeau was quick to court the media and note that since his demotion from cabinet in 2013 — of which he is still unaware as to a reason — he has happily had more “time to himself.”
That’s not exactly a glowing review for the government from a former high-profile MLA. Rondeau’s remarks also speak volumes about his attitude toward the party — a group that until a few weeks ago, he was committed to for the next election.
Rondeau may only be the first to bolt the good ship Selinger.
A handful of names have been floating around of MLAs who may look the other way when the 2016 election nomination process begins.
One of those names is Selinger’s biggest rival, Theresa Oswald.
Following the NDP retreat, many media outlets reported that Oswald was non-committal when speaking about her options in the next provincial election and beyond.
That’s a troubling outcome as it would appear Oswald, and perhaps others in the NDP, are still not fully committed to the party or their leader heading into the next election.
There also continues to be rumblings that Oswald would sit the next one out in a bid to prepare a leadership challenge to Selinger should the NDP get punted from office in 2016.
As for the other side of the floor, finally Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari has found a corner to fight from in 2016, choosing the constituency of Fort Rouge for her run in the provincial election.
Bokhari has been “on the road” for some time trying to rebuild a beleaguered Manitoba Liberal brand and will now have to hunker down in Fort Rouge to show she is in it to win.
Strategically, this was a good move for the rookie leader, as there is a neighbouring history of Liberal support under Jon Gerrard and Sharon Carstairs.
To be fair, Bokhari is not the second coming of the feisty former leader yet, but she does stand a decent shot at challenging longtime NDP MLA and recent Selinger dissident Jennifer Howard.
If the party is ready to play hardball in ensuring Bokhari wins the seat, the opportunity is ripe. Bokhari would also get the chance to silence some of her critics for not having run in the handful of rural byelections that have taken place.
As much as many have tried to detract from Bokhari’s strategy, picking a Winnipeg constituency is the right one for the party at this time.
As for the NDP in Fort Rouge, Howard has stated she would again seek the seat. However, she was clearly one of the kingpins of the charge against Selinger, and she sports plenty of baggage from several high-profile portfolios she held under the Selinger government.
Howard’s campaign position currently is weak, as she not only faces challengers from the other parties, but potential opposition from her own members as well.
Both scenarios benefit Bokhari should she choose in short order to capitalize on them.