Premier Greg Selinger of Manitoba, a New Democrat, is a tenacious man. Five cabinet ministers have resigned in the belief that the provincial NDP cannot win the next election if he remains its leader. But the Premier holds on.
Mr. Selinger does recognize, though, that there should be a leadership race, but he also proposes to remain premier while being one of the candidates – hardly a level playing field.
The party's annual convention is scheduled for early March. Mr. Selinger has pointed out that the party's constitution says, "The leader shall stand for election at each convention." To all appearances, that is just a ratification requirement, which doesn't in itself amount to a leadership campaign. A failure to be ratified, on the other hand, would trigger a leadership race.
Mr. Selinger thinks that other sitting cabinet ministers could be leadership candidates if the need for one arises. It's as if he didn't quite understand what a cabinet is. The parliamentary, or Westminster, system of government requires cabinet solidarity. Ministers can disagree inside a cabinet, but they do have to accept a shared, common program.
Party leadership contenders, however, naturally want to differentiate themselves from each other, on policy as well as character – cabinet solidarity would be impossible in such a race.
It's true that when a prime minister or premier is retiring, cabinet ministers who want to become the governing party's leader will seek to differentiate themselves, within discreet limits – and with the understanding that there will soon be a new cabinet.
Basically, though, Mr. Selinger is entitled to stay premier during a leadership campaign. As a matter of political ethics, however, he should step aside, in favour of an interim, neutral premier. If he stays in power during a leadership campaign, he will have great advantages over his rivals, as the head of the provincial government.
When the previous premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, announced his resignation, he insisted that the leadership candidates, Mr. Selinger included, resign from the cabinet. Mr. Selinger should respect Mr. Doer's sound judgment now and resign.