Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has penalized six members of his caucus who openly challenged his leadership — the latest twist in a battle for control of the troubled New Democratic government.
Selinger said Thursday the six will remain in caucus and be expected to vote along party lines, but will not attend caucus meetings and have no input on decisions.
"They sit in the chamber as (New) Democrats, they have ... the use of caucus services, but they have understood that they will not be part of caucus decision-making," Selinger told reporters.
"The fundamental principles of solidarity and confidentiality are important ingredients to caucus being able to function effectively, and those principles need to be respected."
The NDP turmoil erupted publicly more than two weeks ago, when five of Selinger's most senior cabinet ministers said he should consider quitting. The five — Andrew Swan in Justice, Jennifer Howard in Finance, Erin Selby in Health, Stan Struthers in Municipal Government and Theresa Oswald in Jobs and the Economy — later resigned from cabinet and were replaced with less-experienced caucus members.
A backbencher from Flin Flon, Clarence Pettersen, also said the premier should quit. He is the sixth caucus member who was disciplined Thursday.
Selinger has shown no sign of backing down. He has asked NDP officials to have a leadership contest, not just a review, at the party's annual convention in March. Selinger has also promised to plow ahead with the government agenda, including a throne speech next week and a two-week legislature sitting.
Party officials have yet to decide how the leadership issue will be resolved. Members of the party executive were to meet Saturday to try to hammer out details, which could include a special leadership convention earlier than March.
There was something of an olive branch in Selinger's announcement Thursday. A caucus committee will be set up to try to heal the rift and look for a way to bring the rebel caucus members back into the fold.
"We're trying to work out a situation where people can have a path back and we have a responsibility committee that's now been put in place ... that will allow them a path back," Selinger said.
Swan and Howard refused to comment. Howard would only say, as she and the other former ministers have said in the past, that she remains a New Democrat and will not vote with the opposition parties.
The support of the penalized caucus members is important to Selinger, who has 36 of the 57 legislature seats.
He had 35 until Thursday, but welcomed back Christine Melnick, who was ousted from caucus in February over a controversial immigration debate at the legislature. She will be under the same restrictions as the six caucus members Selinger penalized Thursday.
Melnick used civil servants to invite hundreds of immigrants and immigrant service agency workers to stack the public gallery to watch the debate. The provincial ombudsman criticized the move, saying it raised questions about partisanship in the civil service.
Melnick blamed Selinger, saying she was acting on orders from his staff and was made to take the blame. Selinger denied the accusation and made her sit as an Independent.
Selinger has been facing an open revolt from senior party members, including at least two members of the executive, after leading the party to low polling numbers not seen in more than a decade. He ran into opposition over his decision last year to raise the provincial sales tax, something he specifically said he would not do during the last election campaign.
Selinger has also made changes to his inner circle, including the recent hiring of a new deputy principal secretary, Paul McKie. Selinger's chief of staff, Liam Martin, was "on leave" Thursday, according to McKie, who said no details would be provided because the matter was a personnel issue.
The next election is slated for April 2016. Political observers say the NDP will be hard-pressed to bounce back from low poll numbers over the past 18 months, regardless of whether they choose to replace Selinger at the helm.