Flin Flon MLA Clarence Pettersen will seek re-election as an independent, announcing his candidacy a day after rocking the legislature with claims that a colleague reneged on a plan to depose Premier Greg Selinger.
Pettersen’s entry heats up an already-tense race in which each candidate envisages a path to victory when voters head to the polls next month.
“It was a great honour serving this community and I think anybody that gets that opportunity to serve their community, and serve their constituency, [that’s] always going to be with them,” he told The Reminder on Wednesday. “I don’t think my job is done. I’m proud of the four-and-a-half years that I put in. I’m proud of the $180 million that I got committed to this [constituency].”
Having overcome cancer and pneumonia in the past year, Pettersen declared, “I’m back. My mojo’s back.”
The one-term MLA said he plans to run a grassroots campaign in the mould of US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Pettersen initially planned to seek re-election as a New Democrat, but he lost the party nomination to Tom Lindsey in late 2015. Tuesday marked Pettersen’s final day in the legislature as an NDP member.
He used the occasion to deliver a stinging address in which he accused Thompson MLA Steve Ashton, a cabinet minister, of going back on a verbal agreement to help ensure Selinger would lose last year’s NDP leadership race.
Ashton, Selinger and southern Manitoba MLA Theresa Oswald ran for the leadership. Pettersen endorsed Oswald.
In the legislature, Pettersen alleged that Oswald and Ashton had agreed that should one of them finish third on the first ballot, that candidate would throw their support behind the other in order to help defeat Selinger.
“There was an agreement with the minister from Thompson that the status quo is not a choice…[and that] he would support us on the second ballot, and we would support him,” Pettersen said, as quoted in a Hansard transcript.
Ashton finished third on the first ballot but did not openly endorse either Oswald or Selinger, who narrowly clung to the leadership. Once Ashton was out, some of his supporters reportedly backed Selinger.
Referring to Ashton, Pettersen told the legislature that “integrity and honesty [were] not his traits. In fact, Mr. Speaker, it was the member from Thompson that said to me over lunch one day, he says, Clarence, make sure you walk in with your integrity and make sure you walk out with your integrity.
“And it’s ironic – I know this hurts, but I have to say it. I have to say it because things have happened that shouldn’t happen within our own party.”
In an interview with The Reminder, Pettersen repeated his claim, saying there was an understanding in place but no written agreement.
The Reminder contacted the Manitoba NDP to request an interview with Ashton. The party emailed back a link to a Winnipeg Sun article in which Oswald flatly denied Pettersen’s claim.
“I must be clear in saying there was no deal between Steve and I. Not ever,” Oswald told the newspaper.
Separately, Oswald told the Winnipeg Free Press that she likes Pettersen and had no explanation for his remarks.
Pettersen’s speech became the talk of Manitoba politics. A photo of him in the legislature appeared on the front page of Wednesday’s Winnipeg Sun. A banner headline declared he and Ross Eadie, an outspoken Winnipeg city councillor, as “Muckrakers.”
Beside a stern-looking Pettersen was a quote he gave the Sun: “There’s a House of Cards there in the States and I guess there’s a House of Perogies here in Manitoba.” House of Cards is a TV show about power and corruption in politics.
On its website, the Free Press described Pettersen’s speech as “explosive,” saying it “shocked the legislature.”
This was not the first time Pettersen butted heads with the NDP establishment. In 2014 he publicly called on Selinger to resign as premier, fearing the premier’s limited popularity would drag the party down in the next election.
Pettersen and five other party dissidents were
temporarily expelled from caucus meetings but were still allowed to sit as New Democrats. Only two of them, Pettersen and Andrew Swan, are seeking re-election.
In his speech, Pettersen also reflected on his time as MLA and ended on a positive note.
“And I just want to say thanks for this opportunity for letting me speak and I wish everybody the best and thanks,” he said. “You’re all friends and if you’re ever up in Flin Flon, please come and see me.”
For an election profile of Pettersen, please see pg. 6.