Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 15, 2015
Which door will he take?
That was the question hammered home by Progressive Conservative MLA Kelvin Goertzen last week in the Manitoba legislature, a question that spoke to the NDP’s severance package of almost $700,000 paid to departing staffers for myriad of reasons after the slow-motion coup last March.
“Which door will he take?” A statement and a question all at once, a simple turn of phrase that may serve as a stump slogan for the Progressive Conservatives come election time. “Which door will he take?” Catchy, isn’t it?
Goertzen’s very pointed message in the legislature asked the gathered assembly whether the premier would again take the side door (as he did last Friday) to duck away from the awaiting media, as well as his responsibility to the question as leader of this province, or whether he would face the gallery and give Manitobans an answer as to why $670,000 was paid out to former NDP staffers out of the coffers of everyday Manitobans.
Now, the premier has been around politics a long time, and he has — as of late — waded out of some very sticky situations, like the challenge to his leadership and the ground-floor polling numbers that continue to dog his party.
While mired in mediocrity, the messaging has and will continue to be that the government is working for the best interests of Manitobans by providing “steady growth and good jobs.”
That mantra has adorned boulevards for a year now and will continue to be a peg of their messaging through the foreseeable future. Bait the hook with positive branding, and switch the message away from slumping numbers and party struggles. It has worked in the past and very well could do so again.
Messaging is key to campaigns and make no doubt about it the NDP are campaigning on that message every day in this province. The premier seemed off his game, though, last week when he attempted (somewhat in vain) to flip the attack back on the PC’s when questioned about his own party’s exorbitant, taxpayer funded severance packages. Selinger took to the offensive, calling his opponents into question over the number of Progressive Conservative staff members who left the party over the last year, the “red herring” as was shared in the Sun earlier this week.
The problem is, the Premier’s attack of the Tories came off as looking rather foolish. The staffers who left the PC’s were paid out of party funds and not direct taxpayer dollars as was the case with the former NDP staff members, many of whom were shown the door after backing rival Theresa Oswald during her bid for the party leadership.
Now to be fair, which I try to be in most of the matters taken up in this column, the life of a political staffer is difficult. The job is short on stability, and much like being an elected official, you are at the whim of the people almost daily, with your reward being the knowledge you could be gone in a heartbeat. Just ask any of the longtime Progressive Conservative staffers packing their bags in Alberta to know that change is imminent if you stick around long enough.
What burns Manitobans, though, is the amount that continues to be spent to clean up issues like this human resources debacle with the governing NDP, and the cost associated with those issues. It is another in the long line of severance troubles dating back to former chief of staff Liam Martin being ushered out in November last year — that severance officially cost taxpayers $146,047.
But I digress.
The premier was right in not retaining these staff. No leader in their right mind would want to keep around someone who attempted to undermine their ability to move forward. But shuffling these staff out and paying well above what could be considered a normal severance package for government continues to challenge the affordability myth shared with Manitobans, while piling up the costs and deficits in the process.
Goertzen was on point in the legislature when questioning the severance decision and hammering the premier on sneaking out the side door. The PC bulldog seems to revel in the opportunity to sink his teeth into the government at every juncture.
What the premier and his party will have to get better at in short order is limiting the opportunities for the opposition to do so by making decisions that are sound and reflect the needs of this province. If they don’t, Manitobans may only give one door for the premier and his party to choose from come 2016 — and that’s the exit door.