Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 28, 2015
Not that our province is laden with opportunity for any particular party this election, but Tom Mulcair may have the most to gain or lose in friendly Manitoba come election day.
Officially, we have 14 ridings at play this election. Manitoba is clearly a stark contrast to the more than 120 ridings up for grabs in Ontario, for example — but in an election where every riding counts, Manitoba could be an opportunity squandered if any of the parties choose to ignore it.
This brings us back to Mr. Mulcair and the troubling problem the provincial NDP poses for the perceived “party in waiting.”
Not too long ago, the provincial NDP was mired deep down in the basement for support nationwide and Premier Greg Selinger had a tough time stacking up against his fellow provincial counterparts when it came to popularity polls.
Bogged down with infighting, voter backlash, overspending and broken promises, the Manitoba miracle was fizzling out faster than the hopes of a balanced budget under any party nationwide.
Whether or not they would like to admit it, the NDP in Manitoba had become a huge liability to Mulcair and his party if he was to have any hope of forming the next federal government.
Being a seasoned politician, Mulcair was quick to downplay the quagmire that exists for his party’s fortunes in Manitoba, rather touting the past “responsible” governments of Gary Doer and completely sidestepping Selinger.
And while that has to sting a bit for Selinger, if he plays
it well, a federal NDP groundswell in Manitoba could be something the provincial party capitalizes on when we go to the polls in early 2016.
You see, the current election has to have been good for the provincial NDP thus far. It has taken the focus off all problems Manitoba, putting the eyeballs of the populace on the national showdown that’s taking place.
We, as Manitobans, now have the good fortune to witness the prepubescent problems the NDP is facing in this province. Tom Mulcair and the federal party don’t really want to acknowledge their little brother, and all the provincial NDP wants more than anything is to tag along wherever their older sibling goes.
In the last federal election, the NDP was only able to secure two seats out of the handful that were in play at the time.
The Winnipeg Centre and Churchill-Keewatinook Aski ridings stayed orange under the polarizing Pat Martin and stalwart Niki Ashton, respectively.
Ashton was promoted in the NDP shadow cabinet and will be a strong contender to stay, while Martin looks poised to remain in Winnipeg Centre albeit against the better judgement of others in the House.
This puts the federal party in a tricky spot as many of the possible safe ridings may be up for grabs in the province, with another hopeful NDP riding likely to go to a popular Liberal rival Robert Falcon-Ouellette, who rose to fame in the Winnipeg mayoral election.
The chances of the NDP being swept off the map in Manitoba though are pretty slim, as Ashton at least should have no problem getting re-elected.
But the fact they still have a handful of ridings without a candidate and seemed to just nonchalantly approve a candidate in Brandon-Souris shows that there will be little effort expended in Manitoba.
Our province appears to be something the federal NDP would like to forget, and as the election looms, it could spell opportunity or disaster for Greg Selinger and company, a group counting on the federal election being a poll on where the provincial flavour sits.
If Manitobans choose “anything but orange” this election, it may signal even more trouble on the horizon for the premier and his team — much like the last mayoral elections did in both Winnipeg and Brandon. Those elections saw more fiscally right-of-centre candidates soundly defeat strong left-leaning NDP-type mayoral hopefuls.
That was the first indicator there was blood in the water. A shellacking of the federal NDP in Manitoba would be the second strike.
The federal New Democrats have been on a high for a while now, and aside from a few early bumps, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
This is clearly the time for the provincial brand to gain some ground, and if Mulcair will allow it, little brother Greg best be attached at the hip any time big brother Tom pops into town.
The chances of that happening, however, are about as plausible as the NDP running their promised balanced budget in a hypothetical first year of an “Orange Crush” government.
I’ll believe it when I see it.