Manitoba New Democrat convention: even in Canada the socialism that’s winning is conservative

Oct 18th, 2009 | By | Category: In Brief
Greg Selinger (left) with Steve Ashton after the ballots were counted at Saturday's leadership convention. Selinger won with nearly 66% of the ballots cast. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press).

Greg Selinger (left) with Steve Ashton after the ballots were counted at Saturday's leadership convention. Selinger won with nearly 66% of the ballots cast. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press).

Manitoba New Democratic Party leadership conventions are not always as poignant as the one that took up the better part of a Saturday afternoon on CBC Newsworld yesterday. But in this case Canada’s alleged social democratic party was also choosing a provincial premier — to replace the retiring Gary Doer, who is going to Washington as Canada’s new ambassador to the United States, compliments of the Harper Conservative minority government in Ottawa.

In retrospect Stephen Harper’s appointment of the at least vaguely pink Ambassador Doer can be similarly read as a harbinger of the current improbable marriage of convenience between the federal New Democrats and Conservatives, that is keeping Mr. Harper’s minority government alive. (And with the opinion polls as they have been recently, Jack Layton’s NDP has been doing all three opposition parties a favour by preventing yet another federal election right now!)

There were two final competitors in the race to replace Premier Doer. (The new NDP leader  will also be premier for almost another two years. The next fixed-date Manitoba election is not until October 4, 2011, and the New Democrats have a majority government.) The frontrunner was centrist Greg Selinger, who was Gary Doer’s finance minister. But to keep things interesting he was credibly challenged by MLA Steve Ashton from northern Manitoba, who ran on traditional left-wing NDP themes. In the end the frontrunner won, with 1,317 of the just over 2,000 votes cast by convention delegates.

Manitoba is one of the six less populous Canadian provinces, which all together have less than 15% of Canada’s total population. And Premier Doer sometimes seemed impatient with the resulting status. Manitoba is also the great hinge between Central and Western Canada. But Premier Doer identified more with the West — which may help explain his willingness to accept an appointment from his party’s supposed most ardent ideological antagonist, Mr. Harper.

Niki Ashton, daughter of Steve Ashton and federal NDP MP for the northern Manitoba riding of Churchill, in Canadian House of Commons, June 30, 2009.

Niki Ashton, daughter of Steve Ashton and federal NDP MP for the northern Manitoba riding of Churchill, in Canadian House of Commons, June 30, 2009.

With some 80% of its population in the Winnipeg urban region, and some recent economic steam in the midst of troubles elsewhere, the Moody Manitoba Morning has its ambitions too. It is one of three provinces that have recently “publicly signalled they are not willing to join a national securities commission,” to advise on the design of a single Canada-wide securities regulator. (The other two are Quebec and Alberta.)

Whether Greg Selinger will be able to successfully carry on with Gary Doer’s version of the “conservative progressivism” also said to inspire Darrell Dexter’s new NDP provincial government in Nova Scotia is something that we won’t seriously know until the next fixed-date Manitoba election in early October 2011.  But the ease with which Mr. Selinger won yesterday does suggest that, at least in those provinces where New Democrats are real competitors for governing power, the party mainstream right now is only paying lip service to its own more traditional left-wing themes. (Which is quite arguably why, others will of course point out, it sometimes does form governments — at least in the less populous provinces today.)

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