BRANDON -- Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair says if his party wins the next federal general election, his government will manage Canada's finances in the same manner as Greg Selinger has managed Manitoba's finances.
That's the message Mulcair delivered to assembled media while campaigning in Brandon on Monday.
It echoes comments he made earlier this year, when he convened a meeting of provincial NDP leaders, including Selinger, to talk strategy and reassure Canadians a Mulcair government could be trusted to steer the nation's economy in a reasonable, competent manner.
He said at the time "The NDP's very proud of its track record of prudent public administration in the five provinces and in the territories where it has been in power," and that "Greg Selinger's got a lot to show to other provinces and to the federal government about creating jobs and putting fiscal effort where it can produce the best results."
He went further in his praise for Selinger on Monday, telling radio station CKLQ Manitoba's recent PST hike was the right choice and having the lowest unemployment rate in Canada is an indication of how well the province is doing.
Mulcair is either oblivious to the economic gong show that has been playing out in Manitoba for the past several years, or he sees a silver lining that is eluding the consciousness of a large majority of Manitobans.
For starters, Manitoba doesn't have the lowest unemployment rate in the country. The latest Statistics Canada report indicates that the honour goes to Alberta and Saskatchewan.
While Mulcair lauds Manitoba's balanced budgets, Gary Doer's NDP government only managed to balance its books thanks to massive annual federal transfers, and the province's finances have been dripping red ink since 2008.
The Selinger government overspent by $580 million last year and is projecting a deficit of $518 million for the current year. Though it claims the budget will be balanced by 2017, the current rate of spending versus revenues will make that objective very difficult to achieve.
Even if the books are balanced by then, Manitoba's net summary debt will have almost doubled from the $10.6 billion that was owed in 2008 -- a record high for the province.
While Mulcair seeks to convince Canadians a federal government under his leadership would not impose unreasonable tax hikes, Manitoba is probably the worst example he could cite as a tax-friendly jurisdiction.
Indeed, the province has among the highest income tax rates for families in the entire nation. Last year, the Selinger government imposed the largest tax increase in more than two decades. It followed that up this year with a PST increase, breaking a 2011 election campaign promise and ignoring a provincial law requiring a provincewide referendum before such a hike.
On Monday, Mulcair said he was "willing to work to make sure Canadians get the government they deserve," but do they deserve a federal version of the Selinger government?
If the past 12 months of opinion polls in Manitoba are a guide, he should not be surprised by the answer.
Mulcair's comments could not come at a worse time for Cory Szczepanski, the NDP candidate in the Brandon-Souris byelection, nor for Natalie Courcelles Beaudry, who is running for the NDP in Provencher. Polls show the Selinger government is extremely unpopular in both ridings, and anti-NDP sentiment at the provincial level could harm both NDP candidates' results in the two byelections.
Probe Research's Curtis Brown says it is already having an impact. "There is definitely a link between support for the federal and provincial parties," he says. "Our recent polling shows the federal NDP third in Manitoba behind the Conservatives and the Liberals and we have to expect that is tied to the fact the provincial NDP is at a low ebb in support."
This is an important time for Mulcair and for his party, as he tries to persuade Canadians he leads a team that is ready to be Canada's next government. Pointing to Canada's last remaining NDP provincial government as an example of prudent leadership does not help his case.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.