Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 3, 2015
Well, it didn’t take long for a foggy outlook in the latter part of 2014 to turn to downright zero visibility for the provincial NDP and its leader, Greg Selinger.
Mired for the better part of the last year in the basement as far as popular support, and currently splintering off in a couple of directions with leadership contenders in Theresa Oswald and Steve Ashton, it appears that the final months of power may be upon the beleaguered Selinger government.
The group that has maintained a dismal 26 per cent approval rating in the province, according to a recent poll by Winnipeg polling firm Probe Research.
Probe vice-president — and former Brandonite — Curtis Brown noted this past week in the Sun that if the tides do not turn, the feeling is that Brandon would send two Progressive Conservative MLAs to the legislature for the first time.
Should this be the case, it would end the close to 47-year reign of the NDP in Brandon East, and return a PC member for Brandon West to the hallowed halls on Broadway for the third time in as many go-arounds.
A couple of factors still need to play out, though, before the landscape is set.
First, a PC candidate will be chosen in Brandon East. All signs currently point to former city councillor Len Isleifson, who is the only nominee thus far, but nothing is cast in stone yet.
Second, the NDP leadership race must be settled within the rickety ship that is the party. Oswald and Selinger are the perceived front-runners with longtime power player Ashton a possible spoiler depending
on which campaign he hopes to foil.
In either case, what once looked far-fetched provincially seems to be more and more a reality locally as the time dwindles and the polling tumbles leading up to the next election.
So how does a government answer the call and try to reverse its fortunes? Two words: spend money.
This is a party that will be bent on rebuilding support in Manitoba. One way locally the NDP would be well served to shore up and open the purse strings is to bite off a large chunk of a major project that has loomed with a floating finish line for over a decade — the move of Assiniboine Community College.
Originally on the radar back in the glory days of the Gary Doer-led New Democrats, the move was to signal a new life for the college and the former Brandon Mental Health Centre site.
Now many years later, this project should garner some of the highest merit and should be expedited no matter who forms government. Either the NDP or PCs must make this a priority as the lingering half or half model is proving not to be the best option for the college or the community.
It has done little for the long-term goals of the school, and were it not for dedicated staff and a forward-thinking president in Mark Frison, one is left to wonder whether the college would still be percolating near the bottom of the promise pot.
This has also long been a campaign plank for Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell through the past couple of elections, and if he is able to hunker down on this portfolio, it realistically could win him back some of the lost support.
Politicking aside, this move satisfies many needs in the community. It unites the two campuses for better synergies, it allows room for the Brandon School Division to take over some of the space in the old complex (however temporary), it strengthens and builds on the heritage aspect of the North Hill property and it provides an opportunity for this government to further prove a long-standing commitment to skilled trades development in Manitoba.
The NDP may bolster its cause in Westman if it can show progress on the immediate timeline and a present a concrete plan to funnel greater funds towards the move that ACC has laid out through the public consultation process.
Work on this portfolio is high profile and shows a government that is progressive, and not one becoming more and more introverted while dealing with family squabbles.
Speaking of squabbles, no matter who ends up as NDP leader in March, you have to expect the dozen months that follow to be the greatest example of an open war chest in some time — something that would benefit the college.
The funds will flow, balanced budgets will be pushed back and projects near and far will see cash as the party tries desperately to dance the dance, buying support for what once was theirs for just a song.