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Former cabinet minister writes about revolt that almost toppled a premier

New book sheds light on political revolt

WINNIPEG — The acrimony, distrust and eventual open warfare that crippled the Manitoba New Democrats and almost toppled former premier Greg Selinger is being laid out for the first time by an insider.

Gord Mackintosh, who was a cabinet minister the entire time the NDP was in power between 1999 and 2016, details the behind-the-scenes arguments that led to a revolt by other cabinet ministers in 2014 and to a convention at which Selinger hung on to his position as party leader by 33 votes.

Mackintosh’s new book “Stories Best Left Untold” comes out May 23 and covers his youth in Fort Frances, Ont., his time as a lawyer advising Elijah Harper on opposing the Meech Lake accord and his service in a variety of cabinet portfolios such as justice, conservation and family services.

The book reveals cabinet discussions about Selinger’s controversial move to raise the provincial sales tax and the ensuing effort to dump him to revive the party’s sagging poll numbers.

Selinger had promised in the 2011 election campaign not to raise the sales tax, but the government was in a cash crunch and needed money, Mackintosh writes. Weeks before the 2013 budget, cabinet ministers had options they thought would be more palatable to the public: income tax increases on high-earners or a series of smaller tax and levy increases that would, combined, raise as much money.

Selinger didn’t listen to warnings the public would be angry at the broken promise and a major public relations campaign would be needed to sell the increase, Mackintosh writes.

“Greg was blind to what several of us learned in our first month in office â€” communications planning and a fine-tuned press release and remarks are good ideas. This wasn’t leadership as I’d come to know it.”

The public anger was immediate and lasting. NDP poll numbers plummeted. By the summer of 2014, some in the NDP caucus were telling Selinger to resign so that a new leader would have a shot in the next election.

Mackintosh says Selinger should have resigned “for the good of the party,” especially once the revolt broke out in the open toward the end of 2014.

“‘For the good of the party’ is an age-old exit ramp.”

But five rebel cabinet ministers who tried publicly to force Selinger out did not work to get enough support from fellow caucus members before making their move, Mackintosh writes. A news conference in which they criticized Selinger just gave the Opposition Progressive Conservatives fodder for campaign ads, he suggests.

The Tories would win the 2016 election with a modern-day record majority. The NDP were reduced to 14 seats as the official Opposition. Selinger announced on election night he would step down.

Selinger, who continues to sit in the legislature, declined an interview request Tuesday. Theresa Oswald, who challenged Selinger for the leadership but did not seek re-election last year, was not immediately available.

Mackintosh effusively praises former premier Gary Doer, who led the New Democrats until 2009 and enjoyed continuous high poll numbers. Doer was able to keep a team together, listen to those around him and “bring people in,” Mackintosh writes — a sharp contrast to Selinger.

“Like everyone, Greg has shortcomings but one was an apparent belief he bested other members. That’s a problem when it comes to political smarts where advice can help avoid calamity.”

Mackintosh, 61, didn’t run for re-election. He teaches political science part-time and spends more time with his family.

Talking over a cup of tea in his north-end Winnipeg neighbourhood, he doesn’t seem to miss anything.

“People keep saying, ‘Gord, you have to get back into politics,’ but it’s not in my in-basket right now.”

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version used wrong information provided by the publisher that indicated the book was coming out May 11

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