11/03/2014 08:20 EST | Updated 01/03/2015 05:59 EST

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger Loses 5 Key Cabinet Ministers

WINNIPEG - Five senior Manitoba cabinet ministers resigned Monday over concerns their leader had stopped listening to them and were quickly replaced by Premier Greg Selinger.

The five said Selinger cares more about his own power than staying true to NDP priorities.

"In recent weeks and months it has become clear to us that he is increasingly being driven by his desire to hold onto his leadership rather than the best interests of Manitobans," former finance minister Jennifer Howard said.

Theresa Oswald, who stepped down as minister for jobs and the economy, said it became clear that the priorities and projects of ministers supporting the premier would "move up the queue ahead of what was once a government plan and ... the priorities of Manitobans."

Others who resigned were Erin Selby from health, Andrew Swan from justice and Stan Struthers from the municipal government portfolio. Struthers was finance minister when the government raised the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven last year.

He suggested Monday that the tax increase, which caused the NDP to drop in opinion polls, was not his idea.

"What was our choice? We were going to vote against our own government? I wasn't prepared to vote against a government that has done so much good work over the (last) 15 years for the people of Manitoba, so my vote was very much in the spirit of supporting the government I represented."

All five ministers said they plan to stay in the NDP caucus and run in the next election, slated for April 2016.

Selinger's new cabinet appointees have far less experience.

Longtime backbencher Greg Dewar was named finance minister. Sharon Blady was moved from the junior portfolio of healthy living to health. James Allum, a rookie member and education minister, was promoted to justice.

Kevin Chief, another rookie who headed the small department of children and youth opportunities, was named jobs and economy minister. Drew Caldwell, who served briefly in cabinet a decade ago, was elevated from the backbench to become minister of municipal government.

Selinger rejected the accusation he was not listening to his ministers' concerns.

"I'm the premier that put in place a planning and priorities committee of cabinet, which brings people together ... and we discuss our priorities as a group," he said following a swearing-in ceremony.

"We all work together and we make decisions together as a cabinet."

The revolt first erupted Oct. 27 when the five ministers suggested Selinger should think about his future, given the NDP's drop in opinion polls. Numbers over the last year suggest the party is well behind the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.

The public rift has raised questions over how long Selinger can remain at the helm. Many of the other cabinet ministers and backbenchers have so far straddled the line, saying they support both the premier and the rebel ministers. When Selinger first reacted last week, less than half the caucus stood beside him at a news conference.

The party's annual convention is set for March and a leadership review could be proposed. The ministers who resigned from cabinet have talked about party "mechanisms" to deal with the leadership issue.

More immediately, Selinger will have to recall the legislature at some point with his new ministers to face the Opposition. The legislature normally reconvenes in mid-November for a throne speech, which lays out the government's agenda for the coming year.

Selinger said Monday a decision on a fall session would be announced shortly.

He refused to say whether he will oust the former ministers from caucus or prevent them from running for re-election, calling the questions "speculative."

He also said he was not focused on any possible push for a leadership review led by the former ministers.

"That would be their choice to do that. My choice is to serve Manitobans by listening to them."

The five former cabinet ministers refused to say how many other caucus members share their concerns, but Howard said the five did not act without talking to their colleagues.

"I think it's been obvious in the last week that the concerns we have are not ours alone," she said.

The New Democrats have been in office since 1999 and have a majority with 35 of 57 legislature seats.

Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari called Monday for a snap election, She said Selinger "has lost the confidence of his party, of the opposition and of Manitobans."

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