WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s finance minister for the past decade is Canada’s newest premier.
Greg Selinger is to be sworn in at a ceremony Monday after winning the support of delegates at the provincial NDP’s leadership convention Saturday. He replaces Gary Doer, the party’s leader for 21 years, who stepped down to become Canada’s new ambassador to the United States.
Selinger, 58, beat out rival Steve Ashton, with 1,317 of the 2,002 votes cast.
“We’re all one big political party now — a family now — as we come out of this campaign,” Selinger told the cheering crowd of delegates, the majority of whom were sporting bright orange Selinger T-shirts. “I have no doubt that we will all work together for the better interests of Manitobans.”
Selinger’s leadership bid was backed by virtually all his cabinet colleagues, as well as by union leaders. He has promised little change from the centrist policies that have kept the Manitoba NDP high in opinion polls for the last decade.
“I think we have a very solid track record,” he said after leaving the stage. “I want to build on that. It’s a question of identifying the key priorities and issues in front of us, coming up with a good program to tackle them and executing them.”
Selinger is wasting little time. He said he will choose a cabinet within two weeks that will likely include Ashton. A throne speech is planned before the end of the year.
“We’re going to go right back to governing again,” he said. “This is what we’re here for.”
At the top of Selinger’s priority list is the economy. But he said he’s also concerned about the swine flu pandemic, which hit Manitoba and its aboriginal population particularly hard in the spring.
“We’ve got a health crisis potentially looming on the scene with H1N1. We want to be ready to deal with that,” he said. “We still have a very serious recession in North America and globally. We want to be ready to address that.”
Selinger, a former inner-city activist who studied at the London School of Economics and served on Winnipeg city council, will have up to two years in the premier’s office before facing voters. The next general election is set for the fall of 2011 under Manitoba’s fixed election-date law.
He was the favourite to win. Ashton was the self-described underdog who started his campaign with the support of only a few NDP backbenchers.
Ashton was viewed as more left-leaning and his critics questioned whether he would scare off many of the suburban voters that have supported the NDP through three successive majority governments.
Political observers say Selinger’s margin of victory leaves him sitting comfortably.
Richard Sigurdson, dean of arts at the University of Manitoba, said Selinger can worry less about uniting his party and focus more on building his profile.
Although Selinger has been finance minister for a decade, Sigurdson said he’s a bit of an unknown in some parts of his own province, let alone across Canada. Selinger’s dealings have largely been behind closed doors, Sigurdson said.
“It has largely been in the kind of meetings and negotiations that go on over policy but don’t make the front page and don’t involve getting in front of the camera and making a speech about what you just accomplished,” he said.
“The difficulty for him is going to be to step more into the limelight, to articulate Manitobans views, Manitobans interests and to make the kinds of relationships that Gary Doer has made.”
During his time as finance minister, Selinger developed a reputation as a centrist by balancing personal and business tax cuts with new spending in areas such as health and education.
He promoted himself as a steady hand to guide the province through uncertain economic times and said there would be no major changes in direction under his watch.