Is Northern strategy more show than substance?

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 21, 2014

Image courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press.
Image courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Even the most casual political observer knows Brian Pallister wants to be premier. This is, in all reality, the goal of any opposition provincial party leader.

In recent days Pallister and his merry band of Tories have ramped up the rhetoric in the hope of whittling away at the base the NDP has considered its own in some cases for decades.

For example, this past week the Progressive Conservatives set their sights on NDP turf in the North, announcing their plans for a grin-and-grip tour of four northern constituencies.

It marks the first real engagement for the northern seats this go-around, and if memory serves me correctly, this is the first official trip in a while — aside from a PC planning excursion last month to the far-flung mega riding of Thompson, a riding held by Steve Ashton, minister for many of high-profile portfolios in the NDP over the past decade.

Ashton is no political lightweight and the Tories are unlikely to unseat him or any other NDPer, for that matter, in the Northern Dipper haven. But they appear poised to give it the old college try.

The tour, which does have some merit, is meant to enhance the Tories’ position in the North and is by design a chance to try to chip away at some of those ridings held by the NDP in many cases through five or more elections.

It makes sense for the Tories to tour the North, but in a time when the party’s resources are limited and they are up against an NDP election machine, the decision comes off as a party merely hoping to gain media attention in an area all but forgotten by the PCs over the past two decades.

Now realistically they need to at the very least acknowledge the North, because when politicians get into the game of only playing where they have support, it smacks of desperation.

Kudos to the PCs for venturing out of their comfortable Tuxedo-like constituencies or rural digs, but in this case, it appears to be the same old dog barking up the wrong tree.

Pallister claims the party will address many neglected needs in the North, including jobs, mining, training opportunities and infrastructure. It’s a hard road for the party to hoe as many of those very pegs of policy were established by the NDP over a couple of decades at the helm there.

Pallister may have been better served to go after cost-of-living challenges, such as basic grocery prices, or finding a better way to serve the needs of those suffering through addictions and some of the social issues that cause addiction in many northern communities.

Unfortunately, however, cheap milk and adequate alcohol and substance abuse programs are not sexy enough to sell to the well-heeled masses in Winnipeg counting on the Tories ascending to power next time around.

Perhaps the greatest indication of the commitment to the North came from Pallister choosing to make his first announcement of the northern plan in Winnipeg — a detail not left unnoticed by the NDP, who were quick to jump on the location and timing of the event.

For the cost of a plane ticket, the Tories would have saved themselves a headache and announced the new strategy in The Pas or Thompson. Even better, a reporter or two might have jumped on a plane to join them, filing a story way back home in the provincial capitol.

It has taken some time for the Progressive Conservatives to be relevant again in the voter’s eyes and as much as Pallister claims he wants to recognize the province as a whole, his sights need to be keenly set on fortress Winnipeg if he is ever to make a difference.

The numbers aren’t there for the PCs outside of the balance of power in the provincial capitol, and with limited resources and a smaller staff, giving anyone out here in the sticks any more than a passing glance seems a bit like politicians paying lip service.

If there is a true commitment to lead, show it by proving to voters you are an alternative in any constituency, have a plan and finally share it with us other than through attack ad mailouts.

It’s a safe bet the NDP will hold on to those four northern constituencies. They have for some time, and with the resources they have poured into projects such as University College of the North in Thompson, they will undoubtedly continue to — thus ensuring they have a comfortable four-stroke handicap heading into the next provincial election.

Shaun Cameron Political Columnist

Shaun Cameron is a content contributor. A veteran of print, video and television, Shaun is a professional post-secondary employee by day, a filmmaker by night. Check out more of Shaun's work in the menu bar above.

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Shaun Cameron has worked in media for close to two decades. His work has been featured in print, internet, video, radio and television publications. A proud father of two, Shaun lives in Brandon, Manitoba with his wife Karol.

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