WINNIPEG - Embattled Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger won a round in the battle over his leadership Saturday, as the provincial NDP executive agreed to his plan for a leadership contest at the party's annual convention March 6.
Selinger, who has faced an open revolt from some caucus members calling for his resignation, was smiling as he emerged from the four-hour meeting.
"I'm happy that we've found a democratic way to make decisions. That's always been the tradition of our party," Selinger said.
Selinger offered little insight when asked whether some executive members wanted to put an end to the infighting by holding a leadership contest sooner.
"Those were all internal discussions," he replied.
NDP president Ellen Olfert said a committee will be struck to set ground rules for the leadership race and minimize any internal disputes.
"The committee will handle everything from venue to process and everything else," she said.
"We want to be fair for everyone."
Selinger has been under fire for weeks over low polling numbers and ongoing public anger over his decision last year to increase the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven. Five of his most senior cabinet ministers resigned after he refused to step down.
Selinger has since gone on the offensive. Backed by most of his caucus, he penalized the former cabinet ministers by removing some of their caucus privileges last Thursday. They remain New Democrat legislature members and are expected to vote along party lines, but will not be allowed to attend caucus meetings or have any input on decisions.
Selinger also challenged his opponents to run against him in a leadership race. He pointed to a little-used section of the NDP constitution that allows anyone to run for leader at the party's annual conventions. His position was adopted Saturday by the executive. It still has to be approved next month by the NDP council — a larger body that includes the executive, community representatives and others — but Selinger said he expects strong support.
The rebel former ministers include Jennifer Howard, who left Finance, and Andrew Swan, who stepped down from the Justice portfolio. Both refused to comment Saturday. No one has so far declared they will run against the premier at the convention.
Selinger said Saturday's decision will allow him and others in the NDP to focus on governing. The government will outline its plans for the coming year Thursday in a throne speech and start a two-week fall sitting of the legislature.
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