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Gerrard plans to make it entertaining

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It's not every day you get a politician ready with numbers to counter a dismal poll, but there was the Liberal leader looking as fiery as Jon Gerrard gets, girding for a fight.

"I don't believe that five per cent," Gerrard retorted Tuesday when asked about the CJOB/Viewpoints telephone survey of 579 Manitobans on their voting intentions. The poll noted an impressive undecided figure, about 19 per cent of respondents. But five per cent for a party looks deadly, no?

"It just doesn't fit with a lot of other things we're hearing," he told the Free Press editorial board. He noted Viewpoints is a credible company, but it is a firm with NDP ties -- it's run by former premier Gary Doer's wife Ginny Devine.

Liberal communications director David Shorr, new to the campaign game, was more helpful. In fact, he was irrepressibly chatty about what the Liberals are picking up at the doorsteps and in their phone polls -- nothing nearly as scientific as the non-random CP/Environics online poll of 1,000, also out Tuesday, where respondents were recruited and compensated, right? Opinion polling today leaves much to creative interpretation.

You gotta love a neophyte's unbridled enthusiasm. Shorr eagerly shared the good news flowing into campaign headquarters: Liberal Paul Hesse, no stranger to the campaign trail, is five points behind the NDP's Jennifer Howard in Fort Rouge, where the boundary has been redrawn. Burrows, wide open with the resignation of the NDP's Doug Martindale, is getting the Liberals absolutely giddy with anticipation. They're also excited about Logan, a new riding, where NDP minister Flor Marcelino is running, having lost her Wellington riding in the 2008 redistribution. In Tyndall Park, the Liberals are optimistic with candidate Roldan Sevillano, hand-picked by one of the few federal Liberals to get elected west of, well, anywhere I guess, Kevin Lamoureux. Sevillano has Lamoureux's well-greased election machinery working for him in a brand new riding where the NDP are running Marcelino's brother-in-law Ted Marcelino and the former NDPer Cris Aglugub is reborn as a Tory. Meanwhile, in Minto -- what? Justice Minister Andrew Swan in trouble after seven years in the legislature? Really?

Like I said, there's some unbridled enthusiasm stoking wildfires here. But without a doubt, some of these ridings are up for the pickin', due to either resignations or redistribution. The NDP is facing challenges from the Tories in south Winnipeg, swinging east/northeast, and central/northwest from the Liberals.

Shorr said the party thinks it's hit 18 per cent support in Winnipeg, maybe 15 per cent outside of the city. He tempered that after seeing Environics/Canadian Press found provincial support for the Liberals at 10 per cent in a survey with a massive undecided cohort and that also sees the Tories slightly ahead of the NDP.

In a province where the right-of-centre Tories and left-of-centre NDP are increasingly crowding the centre, how is it the Liberals, famously centre-of-centre, can muster 18 per cent support?

A couple of things to reflect upon: First, I missed the NDP surge federally this spring, not entirely but enough to throw water on any instinct to speculate on election returns. Second, the federal NDP capitalized in areas of Canada where the electorate was feeling poorly served by the choices at hand.

Shorr doesn't think the Tories' bewildering promise to run Manitoba into deficit until 2018 has played into Liberal favour. Some ridings traditionally represented by the NDP are simply feeling neglected, he said.

Further, he said campaign fundraising hasn't been so good since the Carstairs era. Sharon Carstairs ran her wildly successful 1988 campaign on a relative shoestring compared to the campaigns of 1990 and 1995.

The Liberals are predicting a caucus of four seats -- Gerrard, the lone MLA since Lamoureux bolted for Ottawa, is running hard to hold onto River Heights, eight per cent ahead, he believes, of Tory Marty Morantz.

So there you have it, a little meat on Gerrard's bold and early prediction that the next legislature will see a minority government and his party will hold the balance of power. The conditions of this election campaign are vastly different from 1988, when Carstairs' team was elected with balance of power.

A wild idea, coming out of 12 years of uninterrupted NDP reign, yes?

And I thought the Tories' fiscal policy this election had doom written all over it. Maybe it's more of a crap shoot -- in an election almost entirely void of electricity comes a hint and a hope we might be up for a little entertainment.

catherine.mitchell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2011 A14

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