Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 2, 2015
It would appear the faltering fortunes of Premier Greg Selinger and his party have created some inroads for Manitoba’s “party of one.”
A recent Probe Research poll commissioned by the Winnipeg Free Press indicates that the NDP’s numbers in Manitoba have, dare we say, sunk to the levels of the provincial Liberals.
For a couple of decades now, the provincial Liberals have been mired in mediocre support numbers, often failing to even attain double digits. Under Liberal leaders Ginny Hasselfield and Paul Edwards, they were unable to regain the thunder of the Sharon Carstairs days.
Then with former leader Jon Gerrard at the helm, they served as the social conscience of government but again failed to capture the attention of Manitobans, subsequently falling to a single seat after the departure of former MLA Kevin Lamoureux to the ranks of the federal Grits.
When the 2011 provincial election successfully reinstated an NDP majority, many believed change was afoot at Molgat Place (Liberal party headquarters). That change included a lengthy and sometimes bitter shift of command to current Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari.
After years of infighting and the removal of many of the rogue membership and management, this week’s numbers have to feel good for the rookie leader — numbers that are likely to silence at least some of the critics who felt Bokhari was in over her head as leader.
That said, Bokhari’s fortune clearly has come at another’s misfortune — that of the governing NDP. The Dippers have effectively lost half of their popular support since the 2011 provincial election.
Back then, they were sitting at 56 per cent support and quite handily reached majority-governing territory. Since then, leadership challenges, infighting and plenty of negative press have caused NDP support to plummet to 25 per cent. Coupled with an increase of popular support for the Liberals to 24 per cent, and it becomes pretty evident the New Democrats may not have the resources to keep a grasp on so many seats they once thought to be untouchable.
As well, the NDP is dogged by continued reports of internal party strife — something their caucus retreats, like this past weekend’s getaway, attempted to quell.
The NDP story, although on a much grander scale, is not unlike that of the Liberals, who have more than once experienced bitter splits among the membership over who should stand as leader and where the party was headed.
Twice in recent memory the Liberals have fractured over leadership contests, both with Bokhari and Lamoureux.
The maverick MLA twice tried for the leadership and was stymied by internal politics both times. Lamoureux even sat outside of the caucus for a time as an independent Liberal, much like the rebel NDPers did after their expulsion from the Selinger circle.
Although the current wave of Liberal support seems promising for the party and Bokhari as leader, they should be hesitant to pop the champagne corks quite yet. We are seven months away from the election, a lifetime in politics, and the premier and his party are going to do all they can to shore up Fortress Winnipeg, the very place Liberals would undoubtedly have to draw their fortunes from as well.
The New Democrats will channel nearly all their resources into winning seats in the provincial capital. It makes sense as their numbers are much more acceptable in many constituencies there, with Probe calling it a close three-way race throughout the city.
Of the decided voters, 35 per cent indicated they would choose the Tories, with the NDP close behind at 32 per cent and the Liberals bringing up the rear at 27 per cent.
These numbers aren’t great for any of the three parties as resources are usually directed to close races. With so many believed to be in play, parties could win or drop seats depending on the strength, timing and money spent on their individual campaigns — something that hurts the Liberals the most as those resources are in short supply.
The next seven months will be interesting to watch on the provincial front, and could be one to forget for the NDP if its numbers don’t improve.
For decades, the NDP election machine has been known for its skill at pulling rabbits from hats — but this may be a sleight of hand too daunting for even them.
Do Selinger and company have one more trick left up their sleeves? Or will next April prove time has finally run out on the Manitoba miracle?