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NDP begins process to replace Doer Add to ...

Gary Doer's departure so stunned his colleagues in the Manitoba NDP that the jockeying to replace him began slowly yesterday, with a half-dozen candidates feeling out their prospects ahead of a campaign period expected to conclude within a month.

One of the notable features of the Doer government was its relative lack of leadership intrigue. But several members of caucus as well as federal MPs were fielding calls from supporters Friday, trying to get a sense of the field.

The early front-runner is finance minister Greg Selinger, who has delivered 10 consecutive balanced budgets that made few waves. Mr. Selinger is bilingual and well-respected in the party, but may need to be persuaded to run, insiders say.

"If you thought of the person other than Mr. Doer himself who had contributed the most to the success of the government it would be Selinger," said Paul Thomas, professor of politics at the University of Manitoba. "How much he wants it, and how he would do at retail politics, in terms of connecting with the voters, are the question marks. I don't think there's anyone in the lineup of candidates who could match Doer on the retail politics level. He was just so good across party lines and social backgrounds."

Former MP and federal NDP leadership candidate Bill Blaikie, who was elected as an MLA in a by-election last year, would also have a great deal of support, but at 58 may not seek the job.

The next election in Manitoba is scheduled for 2011, and the new premier will face a youthful opponent in 42-year-old Progressive Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen. The NDP will be seeking a fourth consecutive mandate, something the party has never achieved in Manitoba.

The leadership convention will likely be held in late September or early October. If the party opts for generational change, the leading choices would be health minister Theresa Oswald, a former teacher, and training and trade minister Andrew Swan, a lawyer.

Federal MP Pat Martin said more than one labour union Friday asked if he would run. He said he's not ruling anything out at this point, and will consider his options over the weekend.

"I haven't said no to anybody yet," Mr. Martin said. "But I love being an MP, and I'd have to think long and hard before abandoning that."

Winnipeg North MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis may also be pondering a leadership bid after many years in Ottawa.

Intergovernmental affairs minister Steve Ashton has always had leadership ambitions and is likely to run. Other possibilities include family services minister Gord Mackintosh, justice minister Dave Chomiak and conservation minister Stan Struthers.

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