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                Ontario And Federal Conservatives May Reap Rewards 

                              From Upcoming Manitoba Election

 

By Randall White

It has been a very long while since the historian Frank Underhill, from what is now York region in the GTA, called Winnipeg “the intellectual capital of Canada.” 

He was alluding to the first several decades of the 20th century, when John W. Dafoe was the inspired editor of what is now the Winnipeg Free Press.

But the Manitoba provincial election that will take place this April 19 may nonetheless have some unusually significant impact beyond Manitoba — and especially in Ontario next door.

Co-founded, so to speak, by John A. Macdonald and Louis Riel just after Confederation, Manitoba has traditionally had a somewhat schizophrenic provincial identity. 

As the current flags of the two provinces suggest, Manitoba is in some ways a clone of the old Canada-first Ontario. 

At the same time, the statue of Louis Riel on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature points to the province’s heritage as a descendant of the rebellious Canadian West, also next door — this time in Saskatchewan. 

There are a number of opportunities for the Conservatives electorally, and each may give a boost to the other.

For example, if the opinion polls to date are any guide, the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives, led by the 6'8" Brian Pallister from Portage la Prairie, are probably looking at a majority government in April. 

Jaime Watt at Navigator Ltd. in Toronto has suggested that the Conservatives in Manitoba could use the campaign to “test drive new messages and rebrand the movement as more positive and inclusive than portrayed in the federal election” last October.  

From this angle, a Conservative victory in Manitoba could also aid and abet the designs of both Patrick Brown and his PC party in Ontario, and the (still officially not Progressive) Conservative Party of Canada.

And the even earlier April 4 Saskatchewan election that Brad Wall’s Conservative Saskatchewan Party seems very likely to win, on current polling numbers, could also lend momentum to such a Conservative revival in Manitoba when it's election follows close on the heels of Saskatchewan's. 

Still others may point to what happened in British Columbia in 2013 or even Alberta last year, where the Conservative vote collapsed.

Back to Manitoba, where a Main Street Research poll last week showed Premier Greg Selinger’s beleaguered NDP government actually gaining ground on Pallister’s PCs in the city of Winnipeg. (The Winnipeg totals were 34% NDP, 32% PC, 26% Liberal, 8% Green.)

Yet even in this poll the Conservatives still held a quite commanding lead over their NDP and Liberal rivals in the province at large (43% PC, 27% NDP, 24% Liberal, and 7% Green). 

On the other hand, Brandon pundit Deveryn Ross, however, has urged that “pundits and pollsters from Ontario” who view a Brian Pallister PC majority government as “largely a foregone conclusion" could find that Manitoba voters will come to a somewhat different conclusion on April 19.

Ross believes that everything will depend on just how strong a campaign the untested new Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari can manage. 

In this view, if the Liberals do well, they will take enough votes away from a New Democrat government that has now been in office for more than 16 years (under two different premiers) to guarantee a PC victory. 

Yet if Ms. Bokhari’s campaigning does not live up to her early polling numbers, and much of the current Liberal vote starts migrating to the NDP as election day draws nearer, Premier Selinger’s cause may not be quite so hopeless. 

And David Valentin at Main Street Research has argued that the Manitoba New Democrats are already campaigning much like Dalton McGuinty’s Ontario Liberals in 2011, wherein the Liberals were re-elected. 

Manitoba has been governed by New Democrats for more than 30 of the past 50 years as well. And assorted Canadian examples show how such habits can prove hard to break.  

Similarly, even if Jaime Watt’s Conservative movement re-branding is any key to PC success in Manitoba today, it is not entirely clear that Brian Pallister is the right man for the job. 

Pallister has been a Canadian Alliance MP and a Stephen Harper supporter federally. And a recent Forum Research poll showed him running behind his Manitoba party in popularity.

Brian Pallister’s political career nonetheless goes all the way back to 1992, when he first won a seat in the Manitoba legislature. He also displays some opportunistic impulses, ready to do whatever success requires.

If the Pallister PCs win (or even the Rana Bokhari Liberals, for that matter), there are also signs that the Selinger NDP government’s interest in allying with Ontario and Quebec on such things as cap-and-trade carbon markets and recommending Senate appointments to Justin Trudeau could end. 

Both PC and Liberal opposition leaders have been talking about re-emphasizing the Western Canadian side of the Manitoba identity.

While the polls showing the Conservatives well ahead do look a little hard to refute just yet, it is still not altogether a surety just what the people of Manitoba will finally decide on Tuesday, April 19.

But what seems clear right now is that various Canadians outside the province will be watching the Manitoba election for clues about their own future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : March 22, 2016

View all of Randall White's columns
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