Hot! Selinger’s social activism in Manitoba shaped by family background

TheGlobeandMail.com –  news/politics – Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger leaves Government House in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011 after officially droppingthe writ to kick off the formal campaign for a general election to be held Oct. 4, 2011.
Published Tuesday, Sep. 06, 2011. Last updated Wednesday, Sep. 07, 2011.   Steve Lambert, Winnipeg— The Canadian Press

Most Manitobans are familiar with Greg Selinger the policy wonk – the NDP finance-minister-turned-premier who has three university degrees and can talk at length, sometimes tremendous length, about macroeconomic theory.

But Mr. Selinger has another side – one of social activism shaped by a childhood in which his family battled poverty, separation and mental illness.

Mr. Selinger, a shy man, has been reluctant to talk in detail about his upbringing. But in advance of the Oct. 4 provincial election, he discussed with The Canadian Press how his family’s struggles, guided by a resilient mother who paved her own way in the male-dominated 1950s, led him to where he is today.

“When you come out of a family background where there is a lone parent, you see issues of how you look after children, right? Or if you see issues where relatives are struggling with mental health issues, right, that develops a certain sensitivity to those issues,” Mr. Selinger said.

He was born in 1951 in a rough part of what is now north-central Regina. When he was a preschooler, the family moved to Vancouver, where his parents’ marriage fell apart. His mother moved back to Regina, while Mr. Selinger was sent to live with his grandparents in rural Saskatchewan. “It was a way to stabilize the family again.”

Eventually, his mother moved the entire family to Winnipeg. She opened a small clothing store,a bold move for a woman in that era.Then came another curveball: A relative – Mr. Selinger would not say who – was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

His mother handled it all. She ran the clothing store for a decade, bringing in enough money for a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. “The strongest thing I drew from my mother was resiliency – the bounce, the ability to keep finding better ways to make a living,” he said.

Mr. Selinger attended the University of Manitoba, where, prompted by his upbringing, he studied social work. But he also developed an interest in finances. He had helped his mother run the store and wanted to learn more about the business world.

“I don’t want to sound like a geek, but I read the [Winnipeg] Free Press but I also read things like the Financial Post and stuff as a teenager. I was just interested in how things work and how government and the economy work together.”

Mr. Selinger, a married father of two sons, served under the affable, outgoing Gary Doer, who resigned as premier in 2009 to become Canada’s ambassador to the United States. Mr. Selinger was elected by NDP delegates to replace Mr. Doer and brought a very different personality to the job.

Those who know Mr. Selinger say he is passionate about social causes, but uncomfortable expressing strong feelings publicly. He admits that being under the spotlight has been a challenge. “The media exposure has been higher [than it was as finance minister] and I think you grow into any job. But the demand to be in the public eye – and the challenge that gives and the learning that comes with that – quite frankly, I’ve enjoyed it.”

The Canadian Press

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1 Comment

  1. If there would be more individuals like Mr. Selinger who worked in politics, then perhaps Canada might have a better social system in place. This man has lived what many Canadians struggle with daily.I would think that if our Prime Minister and his constituents had lived like the rest of the poor Canadians, or really understood what it is like for the individual who is trying to improve their lives,often falling through the cracks in the system dealing with the frustration and desparity, that our social system and it’s policies would be vastly impoved.

    With all the claw backs on the social service system, one has to wonder if the government really wants to help those in need? The current system is making it increasingly harder for low income families and single parents to move forward financialy.

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