Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 18, 2014
Members of the Manitoba legislature are not short on ideas for spending the increased PST that came into effect under the Selinger government. From Tory promises to scrap it to NDP reaffirmations of its value to Manitobans, MLAs throughout the legislature and staffers within the parties have spent plenty of time crafting their response to the political dynamite that the one per cent increase has become.
Now politicking over the PST in Manitoba is nothing new and it seems everyone has had their say, good or bad on the increase. Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister shared months ago that they would repeal the tax, which they dubbed regressive, within a short time of taking office.
The NDP spends a good portion of most days defending the tax as a purely infrastructure destined investment, something that other parties and some even within the rank-and-file of the NDP have been hard-pressed to defend in the wake of unspent allotments.
Lastly, there is the Manitoba Liberals. Under new Leader Rana Bokhari, they seem to be headed in the right direction and save for some nagging infighting, the party has risen in the polls, with some placing them a mere 10 points behind the NDP who, coincidentally enough, trail the front-running Tories by a dozen points or so depending on the day.
This situation, and Bokhari’s promise on the management of the PST as a sheer infrastructure fund, with dedicated lines of support to municipalities based on per capita numbers, will have some within the NDP shaking their heads as to how to right the message as it pertains to their PST promises.
Now we must be perfectly clear the chances of the Liberals forming government in Manitoba and acting on their promise are slim at best, but ideas like these will undoubtedly be poached by other parties if the public response is favourable. Policy theft is nothing new to the distant third cousin of Manitoba politics. Former leader Jon Gerrard often had ideas pulled from the Liberal platforms only to be rebranded as Tory or Dipper propaganda come election time.
The announcement from Bokhari makes sense for the party and for her building a public persona. It allows them the smallest opportunity to inflate their numbers and supporter base prior to the next election. It also bolsters the numbers for the Tories if the Liberals are remotely able to mount a successful campaign and avoid the pitfalls of past ballot battles. The Liberals won’t have the numbers to win but they may garner enough support while chipping away at the NDP to swing some constituencies blue that have been in the past NDP safe havens.
I have written a lot the past couple of weeks about the fate of our governing party in Manitoba and their plight as of late. Their polling numbers and debt amounts continue to put a strain on their popularity in the province and continue to inch the Tories closer to a win at the polls next go around. Without a shakeup at the top or some good news stories to pull the media away from PST battles and water issues, you have to wonder as each day passes whether Manitobans will be looking at a change in government in the not-too-distant future. The window is closing for the NDP to pull the trigger on a challenge to the premier’s leadership, and with slumping numbers and a stagnant message, you have to wonder whether the talks are taking place as to a quick succession plan for Premier Greg Selinger.
Bokhari and the Manitoba Liberals’ plan makes sense, but as is the case when you are not a threat to govern, you can make high-end promises when you are never really in danger of having to follow through. Furthermore relying on polling numbers is always tricky as so many Manitobans tend to “park their votes” between elections. Bokhari’s Liberals have been the recipients of such a strategy by voters before. If the threat becomes real of a blue victory, many may migrate back to the safe confines of their orange tents 16 months from now.
For the Liberals at least, Bokhari stands a very decent shot of being elected next go around, as does former leader Gerrard (should he choose to run). But beyond that, the team around them will have to pull in some fairly high-end names or back-to-basics mantras if they are ever hoping to align their PST plan with others or have a stronger voice in the Manitoba legislature.