Premier Greg Selinger closed the Manitoba NDP’s annual convention Sunday with the declaration that the party was “unified” and that he and his caucus were energized by the three-day event.
While there had been speculation that Selinger’s decision last week to bounce former cabinet minister Christine Melnick from his caucus would create dissension within the party, there was little evidence of that over the weekend.
Selinger explained his actions at the Friday night kick-off, and that seemed to be the end of it. The premier received loud ovations whenever he spoke, and the party appeared determined to put the matter behind it.
“I heard a real desire to make sure we’re focused on things that make a difference in Manitoba a steadily growing economy, good jobs, quality health care, making sure the infrastructure is being built in this province,” Selinger said. “Those are the kind of debates we had and I thought they were very productive.”
Although polls show NDP support has plummeted over the past two years, in part over government tax increases, the premier told the more than 400 convention goers that the party can still be re-elected if it is effective in explaining the government’s priorities and its road map for the future.
“When we’re fighting for the things that we believe (in) ... we’re on the path to a brighter future. We’re on the path to
re-election. But it takes all of us in this room to do it. There’s no one person that does it,” he said.
Brandon East MLA Drew Caldwell had little to say about the resolutions passed over the weekend and focused more on the “positive energy in the room.”
“It was the most energetic convention in a number of years,” he said, “and it could have gone either way.”
“People had a little bit of trepidation coming into this weekend,” he said, refering to Melnick’s removal.
It appears that the NDP also believes it can win re-election in 2016 if it is successful in demonizing the Conservatives under leader Brian Pallister.
On the weekend, the party unveiled a new 30-second television attack ad that portrays Pallister as a reckless cost-cutter who would threaten health and education services. The ad will run throughout the Winter Olympics at a cost of $6,000 each time it airs. The Conservatives have dismissed the negative ads as a sign of desperation on the part of the NDP.
Party members spent the bulk of the convention debating policy resolutions, passing nearly 50 from a booklet that contained about 200 motions.
They urged the government to increase the social assistance allowance so that welfare recipients have more money to pay for rent, food and other necessities.
The government had resisted calls by social welfare groups and business leaders alike to boost the social assistance housing allowance to 75 per cent of the median market rate.
However, on Saturday, Jobs and Economy Minister Theresa Oswald said the government now considered it a goal, although it may not be able to implement it all at once.
Delegates urged the government to follow-up on the recommendations of the recently released report into the death of Phoenix Sinclair, a five-year-old child who was murdered while in the care of Winnipeg child and family services.
And, they also called on the party and the government to use “alternative media such as YouTube channels and other social media” to get their message out to the public. A resolution, passed by the convention, said “mainstream media is rarely onside” with the party’s beliefs and “ignores or perverts” its accomplishments. Social media would be an effective way to reach the younger generation, the motion said.
» Winnipeg Free Press, with files from Graeme Bruce