By the early 1970s Doer had become a youth counsellor and worked in a number of capacities at the Vaughan Street Detention Centre and the Manitoba Youth Treatment Centre in Winnipeg. He quickly became a major force within the Manitoba Government Employees' Association (MGEA), later called the Manitoba Government Employees' Union. By 1977 he was its vice president, and he became its president 2 years later, a position he held until 1986. As president Doer was involved in a number of important initiatives: helping co-ordinate provincial and national bargaining strategies, establishing a provincial employees' daycare centre, and winning pay equity legislation in the provincial civil service.
He was recruited by the New Democratic Party in March 1986 and ran successfully in Concordia, a Winnipeg constituency. He was appointed immediately as minister of urban affairs in Howard Pawley's government, which had just won a small majority. Consolidating his connection to the NDP, in August 1988 he married Ginny Devine, a former school teacher and in the 1980s a political staffer in the government of Howard Pawley.
In March 1988 Pawley resigned, and after a hastily called leadership convention Gary Doer was elected party leader. He did not become premier, however, though technically he could have become so.
For Doer and the NDP the 1988 election was all about survival in the face of a significantly revived Liberal Party under Sharon Carstairs and a more popular PC Party led by Gary Filmon. This was a time when the MEECH LAKE ACCORD and the existence of a controversial PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE government in Ottawa had greatly altered the traditional shape of Manitoba politics. In the election of April 1988 the NDP survived, though only barely. Doer held on to his seat and led a reduced caucus of 12 MLAs.
Doer developed an alliance with the provincial PCs of Filmon. He helped ensure that Filmon's minority government was not brought down over the budget of August 1988. Doer spoke volubly against the PCs' measures and, with his deputy leader, supported the Liberals' opposition to the government's budget. However, he had cleverly arranged for his own caucus to abstain, and so 10 New Democrats did not vote at all and Filmon survived. However, Doer's strategy helped entrench the PCs as the government of Manitoba until 1999.
In August 1990 the premier obtained from the lieutenant governor, George Johnson, a favourable dissolution of the Legislature. In the subsequent election the NDP improved their performance; Doer became the leader of the Opposition. But the Conservatives now held a majority government. Throughout the 1990s Doer bore down in the defence of medicare as a public and accessible system and was strident in his criticism of all government cutbacks. In the 1995 election he hoped realistically to win power. But Filmon cannily exploited the "Save the (Winnipeg) Jets" campaign and won the overwhelming support of younger, male voters.
By 1999 Doer had been leader of the Opposition for 9 years and risked irrelevance if he lost again. He cobbled together a bold platform that took many themes from Tony Blair's British success with the so-called Third Way model. Doer emphasized that the NDP would respect balanced budget legislation, and would hold the line on taxes but would be an intrepid defender of public medical care. This, combined with the Conservatives' loss of popular legitimacy over the scandal of vote-rigging in the Interlake in the 1995 election, gave the NDP its victory. Doer's party won 44% of the vote and took 32 seats, a large majority by Manitoba's standards. Doer had run a very successful campaign. He had convinced the public that, to the NDP's traditional emphasis on social programs, there could be added a hard-headed, sensible position on the economy.
Following election his government was cautious and in many ways conservative, incorporating many of the initiatives of the previous administration into its politics. Blessed by abundant revenue flows from a buoyant economy and enlarged transfers from the federal government, Doer had no difficulty in his first 2 years in power in boosting spending on health care while offering modest tax decreases to the lower middle class. His government kept its profile low and consciously sought to avoid controversy, and Doer's popularity remained high. Doer also persisted in difficult circumstances in making the NDP successful at a time when social democracy was under tremendous counter-pressures from a rampant neo-conservatism.
Doer called another election in 2003, running a campaign that promised reduced medical wait times and increased funding to education and law enforcement in the province, all the while maintaining cautious government spending. The NDP was rewarded with another majority, this time increasing its number of seats to 35. In 2007 they managed another win and an increased their majority to 36 seats, thereby becoming the first NDP party in the province's history to win 3 majority governments in a row.
In 2009 the popular Doer chose to step down as premier and was replaced by former Finance Minister Greg Selinger in October. Soon after, Gary Doer was sworn in as Canada's ambassador to the US, succeeding outgoing ambassador Michael Wilson.
See also PREMIERS OF MANITOBA.
Author ALLEN MILLS Revised: LORRAINE SNYDER
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