Sunday, May 20, 2007

Reflections on the Manitoba Election Campaign

In the interests of remaining neutral during the campaign, I have refrained from commenting on these pages in the past month. (A novel idea for a blog, I'll admit, but a somewhat noble one.)

Here are my observations, now that the race has come to a close.

(1) The best idea of the campaign.... Ironically, it came from someone who wasn't even running. Mayor Sam Katz wants the $158 million worth of provincial grants replaced by a single grant equivalent to 0.892 points out of seven PST points. That's the same amount of cash as this year, but the grant will grow as tax revenues increase in future years. Why none of the party leaders took him up on this offer -- especially the Tories, who need to make inroads in the city -- is beyond me. It wouldn't cost much fiscally, and downloading some of the responsibility (read: heat) to municipalities, themselves, is not a bad idea. The city needs some long-term flexibility, and would be rewarded for economic development (through increased tax revenues). Long story short, in an era when big city mayors' demands are becoming more and more extravagant, Katz's request is one of the most reasonable we've heard in a long while. (It mirrors a similar proposal for cities to share 1% of GST revenues.) Hopefully the victorious party will give him what he wants. Honorable mention: Doer's pledge of $300,000 for libraries.

(2) The worst idea of the campaign... Hands down: McFadyen's promise to bring back the Jets. Let's be fair to Hugh: if you read the fine print of his press release and statements, he never really 'promised' to bring the team back -- he only committed to 'trying'. But no one reads the fine print during an election campaign. Thanks to mockery in the local and national media, the Tories have gone into a tailspin from which they're unlikely to recover. (The knockout punch that was never thrown: Doer should have thanked McFadyen for suggesting that, after 8 years of NDP government, the Manitoba economy was finally healthy enough to support an NHL franchise that left under the Tories' watch.)

(3) Dumbest move of the campaign... Hands down: The Greens selection of an undergraduate student as their leader. In a year when the environment had the greatest potential to be an election issue, the party shot itself in the foot. The Tories' Jets gaffe will have temporary effects; this one could kill the Greens' chances of ever becoming a viable party in Manitoba. (A legislated 4-day work week? Come on.) Honorable mention: Gerrard's public insult of low-income "ghetto" dwellers. (To his credit, at least he recovered well.)

(4) Smartest move of the campaign... Doer managed to get McFadyen to spend almost an entire week talking about Gary Filmon. In particular, the Tories were forced to discuss their sale of MTS (which they promised not to do), and goaded into promising not to sell Manitoba Hydro. This derailed an otherwise focused campaign. Honorable mention: Hugh's choice of ties.

(5) Gutsiest move of the campaign... McFadyen and Borotsik are right: It's time to end the tuition freeze in Manitoba. The Tory policy even allows students to vote on the issue, with the results of the referendum binding on the government. It's not a popular position (at least among parents), but kudos to them for recognizing the need to give universities the money they need. (See For the record, the Liberals promised to lift the freeze, as well.

(6) The biggest surprise of the campaign.... The New Democrats offered the least in the way of promised spending, and the Conservatives, the most. New spending, including tax cuts, totalled as follows: NDP: $400m; LIB: $876m; PC: $888m. This kind of data begs for an academic study, no?

(7) The biggest disappointment of the campaign... Nobody discussed the plight of Manitoba's First Nations. The media tried, but the parties ducked the issue (again). At some point, someone's going to have to address this. It's a provincial disgrace.

(8) What was missing from the campaign... Like him or not, Gary Doer has proven himself one of Canada's most adroit politicians. His transformation of the socialist New Democratic Party into a third way "Today's NDP" is incredible. The one question that neither the media, nor the Tories or Grits, seized on was a simple one: Who are TOMORROW's NDP? If he wins his third straight majority -- the first since Duff Roblin, by the way -- chances are Doer will not tempt fate by campaigning for a fourth mandate. This means Manitoba will have a new premier sometime before the end of the decade. Who will it be? (Best guesses: Ashton, Chomiak, Selinger, or Oswald.)

(9) Ridings to watch.... Every suburban riding is up for grabs. But what else is new. Also, watch Brandon and the Yellowhead ridings.

(10) A prediction.... Doer loses between 2 and 5 seats, max. He holds a majority, and somewhere around 42% of the popular vote. Turnout drops to just over 50%. The Tories will sew up the South, making inroads in Brandon and along the Yellowhead. They may claw back a few of the South Winnipeg ridings, but not many. The Liberals will hold both of their seats. Final results: NDP: 32; PC: 23; LIB: 2.

(11) What to watch after the campaign... Who will be in Doer's cabinet, and which portfolios will they be given? Look for Oswald to stay on in health, as she is being groomed for the leadership race to replace Doer. Chomiak will stay on in Justice, and Selinger in Finance. Ashton might fit in well as Environment Minister. If anyone from Brandon or Rural Manitoba survives, s/he will be put in under Resources or Agriculture. Aside from that, it's anyone's guess. Also, watch how McFadyen performs in his first full term as Opposition Leader. He's taken his lumps in this campaign, but -- aside from the Jets gaffe -- appears to have held his own. My sense is that most Winnipegers want a little while longer to get to know him better. He's young and dynamic, and -- most important -- a moderate. Sound familiar? (Doer had to wait 11 years...)


Anonymous said...

Funny, when I was back in Portage a month ago I had a family member tell me that the NDP in Manitoba were more like the federal Liberals, and that the Cons had really screwed over the province with Filmon's gang.
While I agree that Filmon's last few years were a total melt-down, how is it that Manitoba can't scrape together a strong Conservative alternative to that many years of Communism?
I was still in Manitoba when Sterling Lyon was in before Filmon, and it didn't seem that bad, but I was quite a bit younger then.
There are lots of us who would love to come back for more than a visit in the Summer, but not until you guys get those fricking Leftists out of office.
You can't let Transcona and the Indians run your province for christ's sake.

DeepRedTory said...

I'm not sure how to respond to the "Transcona and the Indians" comment. I know several people of both persuasions, and none of them feel like they've got a direct line to the Premier's Office.