Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger promised new help for post-secondary students, a faster highway speed limit, and new restrictions on tanning beds in his NDP government's throne speech Thursday.
But amid a caucus revolt, it is unclear whether Selinger will be around to see the promises through to fruition.
The 21-page throne speech offered small, measured promises that Selinger said are supported by his fellow NDP legislature members — an end to interest on post-secondary student loans, a ban on the use of tanning beds by minors, and a new, higher bridge at Morris to prevent flooding on the main highway linking Winnipeg with the United States.
The government also plans to raise the speed limit to 110 km/h from 100 km/h on the Trans-Canada Highway all the way from the Saskatchewan boundary to Winnipeg, Selinger said. Currently, the higher limit only covers a small section near the interprovincial boundary.
There will be a new law to fight zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg, a new law to cover post-traumatic stress disorder for emergency responders and a new agency to promote energy efficiency that will be separate from Manitoba Hydro, the Crown-owned utility.
"I think there's much support for it in the legislature," Selinger told reporters.
"It's concepts they believed in and programs they believed in," he said, referring to five former cabinet ministers who resigned and now sit on the backbench after challenging Selinger's leadership.
Indeed, the rebels made it clear immediately after the speech they will support the throne speech and not vote with the Opposition Progressive Conservatives in a non-confidence motion planned for next week.
"I'm a New Democrat, I was elected as a New Democrat and certainly I will vote with the government," said Theresa Oswald, one of the former cabinet ministers who is widely seen as a potential leadership candidate.
The five rebels, along with two senior NDP executive members, have called on Selinger to resign in the wake of low polling numbers and continued public anger over last year's increase to the provincial sales tax.
Selinger has vowed to carry on, and the NDP executive is working to organize a leadership contest at the party's annual convention March 6. So far, none of the rebels has declared a leadership bid, but Oswald left the door open Thursday when she was asked whether she will run.
"If anyone were to ask me my advice about whether or not they should run in any sort of a leadership construct, I would advise them that you would want to absolutely know what the rules and parameters are of that contest. That's really all that I can say about that now."
Selinger has stressed the government continues to function as usual despite the internal turmoil. But the caucus split has brought about several changes.
The former ministers took up new seats in the legislature chamber Thursday, further away from the premier. Their offices have been moved out of the NDP section of the legislature to a different wing. They remain caucus members, but are not allowed to attend caucus meetings or have any input. Selinger has struck a caucus committee to look for "a path" for the rebels to regain full privileges.
The five former ministers entered the chamber as a group Thursday, wearing the same orange corsage. It was noticeably different from the white-and-orange arrangement other New Democrats wore. Corsages are a tradition on throne speech day.
"Just because of the nature of our agreement with caucus and so forth, we just weren't on the same ordering plan, but we got the same colour scheme," Oswald said.
Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said the throne speech did nothing to address key economic challenges facing Manitoba. He said he planned to introduce a non-confidence motion to try to bring down the government, as early as Monday, and hoped that the NDP rebels would join him.
"We'll give the unofficial opposition in the NDP the opportunity to join us in expressing their concerns about the lack of appropriate leadership and direction within the government," Pallister said.
The NDP has 36 of the 57 legislature seats, including the five former ministers and two backbenchers who have also run afoul of Selinger. The Tories have 19 seats, the Liberals have one and one seat is vacant.