Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 7, 2015
It must feel pretty good to be in Brian Pallister’s shoes right now.
Coming off polls that continue to place him post-election as the heir apparent to the premier’s chair, a freedom of information request has come to light pointing out the close to $150,000 in severance pay made to Premier Greg Selinger’s former chief of staff.
The timing of this revelation could not be worse for the premier or his party as they continue to decide who will lead them limping into the next provincial election.
Officially, the freedom of information request states that Liam Martin was paid $146,047 upon his departure in November from the Selinger brain trust, following only two-and-a-half years on the job.
He was among many of the premier’s former staff members to be shuffled out or who chose to distance themselves from the political storm late last year — a storm that saw members of Selinger’s cabinet continuing to plan their impending coup d’etat.
This news comes to light as Selinger continues the battle to hold onto his job, and positions the provincial Conservatives to be on the offensive again, putting another chink in the already battered armour of the premier.
Worse still for the NDP is the fact that the Tories’ political bulldog and house leader, Kelvin Goertzen, has another bone to sink his teeth into, while the New Democrats hope to recoup fortunes ahead of their leadership convention in March.
Martin’s severance pay is not the real issue here, however, as the government used a common form of calculation in coming to that number. It was noted by the party that generally in these types of situations, senior bureaucrats can often expect at the very least one year’s pay plus holiday time as a buyout of their contract.
The greater issue, and the one giving fuel to the Tories’ fire, is how much the impending leadership challenge and the resulting effects of it will cost the taxpayers of this province — taxpayers who can ill afford further bumps to their cost of living or increased methods to pull in revenue like the PST hike of 2013.
If you look at the impact on Manitobans, you have to wonder whether at the end of the day, this leadership challenge will ring high into the six-figure range in terms of total cost when wages, leaves of absence, new hires and the like are factored into the equation.
It is all part of the democratic process, but plenty of taxpayer dollars have been spilled by the party amping up its arsenal for what many now believe will be a change at the top.
As deep as that hit may end up being on taxpayers, a further weakness is being exposed within the NDP.
The message of the somewhat rigid Pallister and his party is beginning to resonate with voters, as recent articles in the Sun showed. Even steadfast NDP holdings such as Brandon East have been challenged to find higher ground as the waves of Tory blue continue to rise.
Furthermore, the ad campaigns the Tories are currently are running are very soft sell and position them as the party to calmly “find a better way” for Manitobans — the “firm hand on the tiller,” so to speak.
This messaging is a far cry from previous campaigns from the Conservatives, who in the past have taken to predominantly attack ads to fuel the fire surrounding their message.
The full extent of this “better way” the PCs are proposing may not be completely drawn up yet, but the mood is in the air for even the most ardent opposition to be receptive to what is being said across the floor on Broadway.
With more than a year until Manitobans head to the polls, there is plenty of time for a reversal of fortunes as that is a lifetime in politics. That said, the chances — much like the options — to offer change are narrowing, and Manitobans are not as receptive as they once were to listening to promises from the premier or his party.
The Tories, through a combination of sheer luck and a few crafty plans, are finding their way in the province again. If this keeps up, they may actually make the next provincial election theirs to win as opposed what many formerly felt was the NDP’s to lose.