Manitoba premier touts economic achievements heading into leadership race

WINNIPEG – Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger touted his government’s economic achievements Friday night as he opened a weekend NDP convention that will see him fight to keep his job.

Selinger pointed to low unemployment rates and a recent Conference Board of Canada report that predicts Manitoba will lead the country in economic growth in 2016.

“That growth is something we can take to the people in the next election, in the spring of 2016. That is a winning formula to continue to earn the right and the privilege to serve the people of Manitoba,” he said to applause from many of the hundreds of delegates in the room.

Selinger entered the room surrounded by supporters wearing orange scarves and trying, with some success, to lead the crowd into a round of applause. His speech was the annual speech by the party leader, not as a leadership candidate. But at times the lines appeared to be blurred as he touted his achievements as a recipe for electoral success in 2016.

Selinger is by all accounts in a very tight race against two of his former cabinet ministers — Theresa Oswald and Steve Ashton — in a contest that will go to a vote Sunday.

Oswald and four other senior cabinet ministers publicly suggested Selinger consider resigning last October to help the party rebound in the polls in time for the next election. Recent polls suggest the NDP are near record-low levels of public support, far behind the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, after raising the provincial sales tax in 2013.

Since then, Selinger has seen top cabinet ministers resign and top advisers leave their jobs to support Oswald.

Still, he told reporters after the speech, he has never once considered quitting the race.

“No. I mean, people asked me to stay. People said ‘hang in there’ … and I picked that up from a very broad cross-section of the public, not just members of the New Democratic Party.”

The leadership race is by all accounts too close to call, with the three candidates each getting roughly one-third of delegates elected at constituency meetings held over the last month.

Selinger has not publicly shown any signs of worry. He appeared relaxed and comfortable during his 15-minute speech, and was asked afterward whether he was nervous at all.

“I never say never, but I have felt a lot of support.”