Saturday, May 19, 2007

Frances Russell on Manitoba Election

This article is a few days old but is an interesting analysis of the situation before the election. I rather doubt that there has been enough swing to the Liberals to make very much difference. It is always possible that some Conservatives will go Liberal not just NDPers. As the polls show although the Liberals are the only party to show some momentum it is minimal. Only if the Liberals do well in a few key ridings could the increase have much effect on the result.

NDP-Liberal teeter-totter will decide Manitoba election
Frances Russell

Winnipeg Free Press May 16 2007

SINCE Duff Roblin’s Progressive Conservatives ushered Manitoba politics into the modern era by defeating the old Liberal-Progressive coalition in 1958, just one premier, Roblin himself, has managed to win three consecutive majority governments. Roblin captured a minority in 1958. A year later, he elevated it to a majority and repeated the feat in 1962 and again in 1966.

On May 22, Manitobans will decide whether Gary Doer will be the second premier of Manitoba’s modern era — and the first New Democrat — to match Roblin’s success. Doer’s prospects of gaining his Holy Grail will be determined less by the Conservatives than by Manitoba’s small-l liberals.

Will they be content to stay with the NDP the third time around? Or are they open now to taking a chance on Jon Gerrard’s Liberals? Any significant increase in Liberal popular vote could spell trouble for the NDP, dictating minority for Doer or victory for McFadyen’s Conservatives.

Roblin resigned in 1967 after an unsuccessful bid for the federal Tory leadership. His replacement was tough-talking, cigar-smoking Minnedosa undertaker and former highways minister Walter Weir.

In early 1969, the provincial Liberals, too, opted for a rural conservative to replace Gil Molgat. They rejected a younger urbanite for Bobby Bend, a member of Liberal-Progressive Premier D.L. Campbell’s last cabinet.

Weir called a snap election for June to catch the third place NDP in the throes of a leadership convention. Thirty-three-year-old Selkirk NDP MP Ed Schreyer won and parlayed his youth, academic credentials and progressive ideas past his two older adversaries into power. The New Democrats spiked from 23 per cent of the vote and 11 seats in 1966 to 38 per cent and 28 in 1969. The Liberals dropped from 33 per cent and 14 seats to 24 per cent and five. The Conservatives slipped from 40 per cent and 31 seats to 35 per cent and 22.

Throughout 38 years and nine elections, the 1969 pattern has repeated relentlessly. The Conservatives’ rock-solid rural base always assures them of government or Official opposition. They have never fallen below the 35 per cent of the vote they received in 1969 nor won fewer than the 20 seats they captured in 2003.


Manitoba’s electoral flux occurs almost entirely on a centre-left, NDP-Liberal teeter-totter. It has sent the Liberals as high as 35 per cent and 20 seats (Sharon Carstairs’ “Lady in Red” campaign in 1988), and as low as seven per cent and no seats (NDP premier Howard Pawley’s polarizing rout of Sterling Lyon’s one-term Conservative government in 1981.) The flux has shot the NDP as high as 49 per cent and 35 seats in 2003 (Doer’s second majority), and as low as 24 per cent and 12 seats in 1988.

Paul Thomas, Duff Roblin professor of government at the University of Manitoba, says there’s no groundswell to replace the NDP but there might be enough disappointment and desire for a new direction, particularly on crime, to make the NDP vulnerable. However, he says, McFadyen faces a credibility problem and not just because of his “misguided” promise to bring back the Jets.

“Can (the Conservatives) make the kind of promises they are making about cutting taxes and still maintain service levels in health, education and elsewhere?” Thomas wonders. “There is no doubt that McFadyen is young and energetic and has ideas, but where’s the judgment, where’s the substance, where’s the gravitas? There’s a huge difference between doing backroom politics and retail politics… It takes a certain amount of experience and skill to present yourself and your party’s ideas. And if there’s one thing about this election that will stick in the mind of the casual observer — and most voters today are casual observers — it will be that Jets promise.”

Thomas believes that, as in 2003, the Liberals have offered the best platform. Manitobans weren’t appreciative then. But the government is four years older and more voters are offside or frustrated. “So there might be more people looking at the Liberals to say I’m not as impressed with the NDP as I used to be. If (the Liberals) could get four seats and official party status, that could have a bearing on who forms government and whether it’s a majority.”

The University of Winnipeg’s Shannon Sampert also thinks the Liberals could make gains. “But I don’t know whether it will be enough to make them spoilers. Their platform has been well articulated and is a clear alternative to both the Conservatives and the NDP.”

She also says that McFadyen has made “some genuine big mistakes… He’s so eager to be elected, you get the feeling he’ll promise anything.” He is mainly preaching to the converted with his $652 million in tax cuts, she says. “In Manitoba, unlike some other provinces, I think we recognize there is an overall need for the state to be involved in ensuring there is a safety net.”

Next Tuesday’s election will be decided on the NDP-Liberal teeter-totter in the dozen or so geographically scattered ridings that now straddle Manitoba’s NDP-Conservative parallel universes.

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