Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger lays low, staff blame election law

Premier Greg Selinger has been laying low since announcing a byelection for The Pas. Tamara Forlanski / Global News

WINNIPEG — Avoiding reporters. Eschewing news conferences. Keeping public appearances hush-hush.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has been keeping a low profile at a time when there are questions about whether his caucus can put an end to an internal revolt and govern the province as a united body.

READ MORE: Manitoba premier calls byelection for April 21 in The Pas

Selinger has not held any news conferences and has rejected interview requests since March 20, when he called a byelection for The Pas. His staff point to a provincial law that bans most government advertising and announcements — but not interviews — during campaigns.

“Obviously during the blackout we cannot put the premier up for a general scrum or interview,” spokesman Paul McKie wrote in an email Wednesday.

Selinger has attended public events, such as a labour group conference Wednesday, without letting reporters know. There have been no notices for caucus or cabinet meetings, leaving journalists to wander the hallways of the legislature in the hopes of seeing the premier.

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The blackout comes at a time when Selinger is trying to reunite his divided caucus following an open revolt that erupted last October.

Five senior cabinet ministers called on him to consider resigning in order to help the party rebound from record-low opinion poll numbers. They quit their posts and one of them, Theresa Oswald, ran against Selinger in a leadership race that ended March 8, when Selinger captured 51 per cent of NDP delegate votes.

Selinger has since talked about finding a way to bring the rebels back into the NDP fold, but there are no signs that any progress has been made.

“The premier has said repeatedly that he wants everyone back in caucus, working in the same direction, as soon as possible,” McKie wrote.

“The caucus reconciliation is moving on the right track and the premier believes in caucus confidentiality.”

The leadership challenge led to Selinger replacing the rebel ministers with less experienced cabinet members. It was also a factor in the decision to delay delivery of the provincial budget by a few weeks to April 30.

READ MORE: Manitoba NDP support steady after fractious leadership race: poll

The law banning most government ads — The Election Financing Act — says a government department or Crown corporation “must not advertise or publish any information about its programs or activities” during election periods, although there are exceptions for matters of pubic safety, advertising necessary for ongoing programs and more.

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The NDP has run afoul of the law on a few occasions, such as an event last year that marked the 98th anniversary of Manitoba women getting the right to vote. The provincial elections commissioner ruled the province was wrong to advertise and promote the event at a time when two byelection campaigns were underway.

Opposition Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said Wednesday Manitobans need to know whether the government is fully functioning.

“I’m encouraging the government … to get their act together, get organized, come back as a team and start to place the interests of Manitobans at the forefront.”

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