Flor Marcelino takes helm of Manitoba NDP
By Ted Alcuitas
Baltimore, Maryland – Flor Marcelino was formally chosen as the NDP’s interim leader on Saturday, May 7, a week after her 14-member caucus endorsed her as the party’s choice following leader Greg Selinger’s resignation. The first woman to lead the NDP in Manitoba is also the first woman of colour to be elected in the history of the provincial legislature.
The New Democrats were elected in 14 constituencies compared to the Tories’ 40 and three for the Liberals at last month’s election – the first time since 1999 that it has held less than 32 seats.
The three-term member for Logan is not the first woman to lead a political party in Manitoba. Sharon Carstairs became leader of the Liberal Party in 1984 leading her party to become the official opposition in 1953, the first woman to hold such a position in any Canadian legislature.
The 64-year old mother of five, has been in the legislature since 2007 and held the relatively low-profile cabinet position of multiculturalism and literacy since 2009. She said her aim is to hold the new Progressive Conservative government to account in question period while also travelling the province to boost NDP support.
“I see this as an opportunity to really connect with all members of our party, do serious listening and engaging in productive, respectful conversations … and fundraising too.”
But one political analyst says Marcelino will have a difficult time uniting the party.
Raymond Hébert, professor emeritus of political science at the Université de Saint-Boniface, describes Marcelino as a Greg Selinger loyalist, who will immediately be identified as sticking to one camp rather than the other.
“It certainly won’t make her life easier as leader,” he said.
True unity will become possible only when the party’s permanent leader is elected, and even then the NDP caucus will be “rather weak,” according to Hébert, who said it will take around two years to strengthen.
In the meantime, Manitoba’s premier-designate Brian Pallister will face few challenges with Marcelino leading the NDP, Hébert said.
“I don’t think she’s a good counterweight to Mr. Pallister or to his more experienced … eventual cabinet members. I think we can expect Mr. Pallister to have a pretty easy time with it,” he said.
What Hébert describes as the NDP’s heavyweight candidates are “waiting in the bushes for the real leadership contest to begin,” he said, naming Kevin Chief, Wab Kinew, James Allum and Andrew Swan specifically.
But Flor Marcelino is not intimidated.
While admitting she is physically ‘tiny’compared to the towering Premiere Brian Pallister, she told the Winnipeg Sun, “He’s literally a giant because I’m so tiny,” Marcelino said. “But don’t discount an old woman like me because I have been a mother and a grandmother and I can offer Manitoba and my party a lot of life experiences.
“I accepted this challenge because I believe I can offer my party the need to be intense and can be a good critic of the Pallister government.”
“It’s a tough road ahead and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Marcelino, who was born in Manila. “It’s an opportunity to serve my party and to be an effective Opposition Leader.”
Marcelino says she has no desire to become NDP’s full-time leader.
There is no word yet on when the NDP will choose a permanent leader which could be 18 and 24 months from now according to some observers.
NDP President Ovide Mercredi says he is very proud to have Marcelino at the helm of the party.
“Her several years of experience as both an MLA and minister will make her a formidable Opposition leader, and her strong ties to diverse communities across Manitoba will prove invaluable for our party’s positive, progressive agenda moving forward.”
Marcelino says she will diligently to keep the new Progressive Conservative government in check.
“As interim leader, I look forward to working with my colleagues, First Nations, newcomer communities, and all Manitobans as we hold the Pallister government accountable. We will work the newly elected government to serve the needs all Manitobans, and fight to ensure the front line services families count on are protected.”
“This is a party that will keep on fighting for what we believe is right, for our values, for our social justice goals for everyone…. Watch out how we rise up.”
Marcelino said she is eager to work with First Nations, newcomer communities and all of Manitoba.
“Our party today, as in the past, is a party of inclusivity. It is a party of diversity. It is a party of all of Manitobans,” she said. “We will work [with] the newly elected government to serve the needs [of] all Manitobans, and fight to ensure the front line services families count on are protected.”
The interim leader did not respond to our email request for an interview.