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Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger is trying to do something political leaders rarely accomplish: survive a full-scale mutiny.

The Canadian political landscape is littered with ex-premiers and even prime ministers who lost the loyalty of key ministers and were left with no choice but to resign. In British Columbia it has happened with regularity. It occurred to Alison Redford in Alberta last spring and to Kathy Dunderdale in Newfoundland a few months before that.

In B.C., premier Bill Vander Zalm had two key ministers quit on him and he was never able to recover. He tried to hang on amid deteriorating support in his caucus and finally resigned in 1991, his unpopularity ultimately paving the way for the election of the New Democratic Party. But NDP leaders didn't fare too well themselves.

Caucus insurgencies forced NDP premier Mike Harcourt from office, and his successor Glen Clark too. Gordon Campbell had a long run as premier of the province before a broken tax promise led to his political undoing. The Campbell resignation has the most direct links to the controversy dogging Greg Selinger at the moment.

Mr. Campbell introduced a harmonized sales tax after promising the public he wouldn't. He was motivated to make the decision because the province's coffers had been hit hard by the global financial meltdown of 2008, and the federal government was offering $1.6-billion as an enticement to introduce the consumer tax. B.C. bit and the public revolted. When the polls showed that Mr. Campbell had become a political albatross, influential members of his caucus convinced him it was time to go.

Ms. Dunderdale and Ms. Redford met the same fate, although for different reasons. Ms. Redford lost the confidence of her caucus because of spending scandals, while Ms. Dunderdale was seen as simply not being up to the job. She didn't protest when a budding uprising threatened to get ugly if she didn't go. Ms. Redford's predecessor, Ed Stelmach, also resigned when it was clear he lost the backing of key members of his caucus.

At the federal level, Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien ultimately stepped aside when it became apparent his caucus was divided over his leadership. An internecine power struggle waged by Paul Martin was threatening to do permanent damage to his party. Many would argue it did.

Mr. Selinger understands which way the political winds are blowing and surely knows that he, too, will likely have to step aside in the interest of his party. There is nothing as unseemly as a political leader intent on clinging to power for power's sake. For all the historical precedents, the resignation of five of the most important ministers in his government is a walkout of unparalleled proportions. And it is clear that the disenchantment within the NDP ranks in Manitoba run deeper than the public utterances of those who stepped down this week.

The fact that the NDP caucus hasn't insisted that the five leave their ranks is telling in itself. In fact, it's hard to believe Mr. Selinger didn't insist that they sit as independents. Not often would a political leader allow those leading an insurrection against him to remain in caucus so they can continue to sow seeds of discontent.

There is little question Mr. Selinger deserves blame for this mess: first, for the decision to hike the provincial sales tax after insisting to the public he wouldn't; and secondly, for not doing a better job of keeping the most powerful voices in his government onside throughout the sales tax fallout.

That takes work, and finesse. The most successful political leaders have that skill. Once leaders lose the faith of their most able and trusted ministers, it's usually game over.

Mr. Selinger will likely wait and see how his decision to hang in plays out with the public and his own party. If it only serves to more deeply entrench the electorate's hostility to his administration, then he has no choice but to go. His party could force his hand before taking the temperature of Manitobans even becomes necessary. He may just be waiting to leave on his terms, not someone else's.

The Premier does not want to be remembered as the NDP leader who hung on for too long, and was ultimately responsible for the complete annihilation of his party at the polls. That's a political legacy no one wants. Ask Bill Vander Zalm.