Opposition parties say embattled Premier Greg Selinger should call an election rather than a leadership race. But Dave Chomiak, minister of mineral resources, said the governing NDP can multi-task while Selinger's leadership is in question.
"We can continue to work as a government and the party can make its own decision," he said following a meeting in Selinger's office at the legislature.
"Every four years, there is an election. The public gets a chance to make a decision as to what we have done as a government and whether they want us to continue or not. That's democracy.
"The leader of the party is decided by the party."
Selinger hasn't appeared publicly since a meeting with the NDP executive over the weekend, where he says he requested that a leadership contest be held at the party's annual convention in March.
In a statement released Monday, Selinger said a committee has been struck to figure out how the vote will work. They are to report back Dec. 6.
Selinger confirmed he will stand as a candidate and opponents will have the opportunity to run against him.
"It’s time to put this question of leadership into a democratic arena where I’m ready, willing and able to show why I was elected leader of the party by our members and elected premier by Manitoba voters," he said in the statement.
Chomiak wouldn't answer directly when asked whether he supported Selinger's leadership.
"That's not a yes or no question. It's always been a principle of mine that I support who the party chooses as leader. I've done that for almost 40 years," Chomiak said. "I haven't devoted 40 years of my life to working in public life to be reduced to a question that's yes or no. I support what this government does. I support what this premier does."
Selinger has been under fire from his own cabinet and caucus over last year's decision to raise the provincial sales tax. The party has plummeted in the polls and one party source told The Canadian Press that half the NDP caucus wanted Selinger to step down during a caucus retreat in September.
That evolved into open rebellion last week when five of Selinger's most senior cabinet ministers resigned after publicly suggesting he should step aside. They have not reacted to the prospect of a leadership contest and did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said the infighting is a distraction from the real concerns of Manitobans. All voters should be able to decide Selinger's fate, not just card-carrying NDP members, he said.
"Why should 99.9 per cent of Manitobans be excluded from deciding who the next premier of Manitoba is?" Pallister asked Monday. "Why should these democratic rights be limited to the members of the New Democratic Party and the few remaining supporters of the premier or of his rebellious ministers?"
The battle for leadership of the party has created an unstable government, Pallister said.
"Manitobans are telling us they're concerned. They're worried about their health care. They're worried about their social services. They're worried about the quality of their education," he said.
"These worries ... have been deepened as a result of them seeing a government that's dysfunctional, a government that's clearly focused on its own health more than the health of Manitobans."
Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari added her voice to the call for an immediate election.
"Like the rest of the NDP, Selinger only concerned with his political survival. Can't run for party leader and be premier at same time," Bokhari posted on Twitter. "Manitobans must be allowed to choose the next premier now. It is not for unaccountable NDP insiders to decide."
The legislature is set to return Nov. 20 with a speech from the throne.
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