Fifty per cent of Manitobans approve of the job Premier Greg Selinger is doing, while nearly as many have yet to make up their minds about new Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister.
According to a new Winnipeg Free Press/Probe Research Inc. poll, 48 per cent of Manitobans (52 per cent in Winnipeg) are either unfamiliar with Pallister or feel they need more time before they pass judgment.
Pallister was acclaimed as provincial Tory leader on July 30 and elected to the legislature in a byelection Sept. 4. He succeeded Hugh McFadyen, who stepped down after failing to improve the party's standing in last fall's general election.
The poll shows the Conservatives failed to achieve the bump in popular support that often accompanies a change in party leadership.
When Manitobans were asked which party they would vote for if an election were held tomorrow, 45 per cent said they would vote for the NDP, 38 per cent backed the PCs and 11 per cent favoured the Liberals. The popular-vote breakdown in the Oct. 4, 2011 provincial election was 47 per cent NDP, 43 per cent PC and eight per cent Liberal.
Scott MacKay, president of Probe Research, said it's no surprise Manitobans have yet to get a read on Pallister, a cabinet minister in the government of former premier Gary Filmon and a federal member of Parliament who hasn't held elected office since 2008.
Pallister is essentially beginning with a "blank slate," said MacKay, which may work to his advantage or disadvantage.
"Politics is rougher than it used to be," the pollster said. "Nowadays, the opportunity for (opposing parties) to be the first one in to define you is always there."
While only 33 per cent of Manitobans so far approve of Pallister's performance as leader, the silver lining for him is comparatively few (19 per cent) have a negative opinion of him.
Selinger appears to be more popular with Manitobans than his party. Although 50 per cent of provincial voters approve of the job he's doing, only 45 per cent would vote NDP, according to the poll.
Pallister refused to comment directly on the poll results, but said it's "pretty understandable" that many Manitobans don't know him well yet.
"I expect the challenge for me remains the same as it was a few weeks ago when I was named leader: that is, to let Manitobans know honestly who I am and what our party stands for," he said in an interview.
Though Pallister has made some policy pronouncements, he has focused much of his attention so far on strengthening his party, which will hold its convention in Winnipeg on Saturday.
The convention was originally organized to pick its new leader but was converted to a business meeting and policy-making forum when Pallister was unopposed for the party leadership. Up to 400 delegates are expected to attend the meeting, with 500 anticipated for a gala evening fundraiser.
Pallister said the convention will focus on internal party matters. One resolution expected to come up for debate would ensure constituencies are rebated 30 per cent of all money they bring in through fundraisers.
Another motion would grandfather memberships so they need not be renewed until after the next general election.
Pallister said the process of collecting $10 memberships each year is "extremely cumbersome" and time-consuming. Party members will debate whether that time would be better spent on policy development and other activities.
Approval for provincial leaders*
*A random and representative sampling of 1,000 Manitobans was asked whether they generally approve or disapprove of each leader's performance. The poll was conducted by telephone between Sept. 19 and Oct. 14. The results are considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.