No dust on this degree
Greg Selinger, Manitoba’s new NDP Premier, has been away from Queen’s for more than a decade, but he credits what he was taught for helping him deal with the issues he faces in his new job.
The 58-year-old Selinger graduated with a Master of Public Administration degree in 1997, two years before he was elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.He was the province’s finance minister up until former premier Gary Doer stepped down last fall to become Canada’s ambassador to the United States. Selinger was suddenly thrust into a leadership race and within weeks was the overwhelming choice to become Manitoba’s 21st premier. He was sworn in on October 17.
Despite 10 years in power and three successive majority governments, the NDP under Selinger finds itself at a crossroads. The global economic downturn and falling federal transfer or equalization payments have hit Manitoba in its pocketbook, limiting what it can do.
Enter Selinger, a former associate professor of social work. Guiding him, in part, is what he learned at Queen’s. “I did a lot of work on how we finance social policy in this country and how we finance transfer payments, how we finance health and education and social services,” Selinger said during a recent interview in his office, a wood-paneled room on the second floor of the historic Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg.
“It was extremely helpful in understanding the job I’ve been doing for the last while and the job I’m doing now. And it gave me an appreciation for the way different parts of the country take a look at these things.”
Selinger was first elected to the legislature in 1999. Doer immediately gave the MLA for St. Boniface the finance portfolio. For 10 years the bilingual Selinger held onto it. Many consider his stewardship as one reason for the province’s stability relative to other provinces during the recent recession.
Selinger was born in Regina and lived there until he was 11, when his mother moved to Winnipeg and opened a family clothing store. He graduated from St. James Collegiate and studied social work at the University of Manitoba (U of M). He later went to England to earn a PhD from the London School of Economics.
When he came back to Winnipeg, he headed up a local community development agency in the inner city. That experience motivated him to return to the U of M to teach social work.
In the late 1980s, Selinger heard the call of public service. In 1989, he was elected city councillor for St. Boniface. In 1992, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor. He went back to his academic life. He said that’s when he found out about the mid-career MPA offered by Queen’s, largely through the reputation of the program’s former director, Keith Banting.
“I did it just to expand my head space, to get a broader perspective,’’ he said of the Queen’s graduate program. “Queen’s takes a pan-Canadian perspective on the way they teach the program. They bring in academic talent from all over the country.
“I liked the fact that the program had a whole School of Policy Studies supporting it and focused on applied knowledge, like applying theory and knowledge to solving real problems in the world.”
It also allowed Selinger to continue working at the U of M and help his wife Claudette Toupin raise their two young sons.
“It was a degree where you could show up at the school’s Winnipeg satellite for a Friday and Saturday or a Saturday and Sunday. You could do a couple of days of the week intensively and then you did a few weeks on the Queen’s campus every summer for a couple of years,” he said.
“It was a student-friendly program in the sense that it allowed students to have all the chances they needed to do well.”
Selinger finished the two-year program with a research paper (thesis) on the Canadian Social Health Transfer, Ottawa’s old system of transfer payments to the provinces to pay for health care, post-secondary education, and welfare. “You can see the obvious relevance, right?” Selinger joked.
Although governments and policy have changed since then, Selinger still says that what he learned then he still applies to today’s challenges.
“It allowed students to re-think some of the big issues and get a take on them, and then decide how they wanted to take that new knowledge and apply it where they were working or where they wanted to work,” he said. “It gave us a greater appreciation of what we had to do to move the country forward.”