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NDP need not go down with captain

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Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger talks to the media in a scrum after making his state of the Province Address at the Convention Centre Thursday. Dec 12, 2013.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger talks to the media in a scrum after making his state of the Province Address at the Convention Centre Thursday. Dec 12, 2013. Photo Store

BRANDON -- If Manitoba's governing New Democrats have any sense of self-preservation, they won't spend their time preparing to deliver a provincial budget four months from now. They will prepare for a leadership convention and a spring election.

The notion of the NDP facing voters a few months from now could be regarded as suicidal given the latest Probe Research poll results. Probe found the opposition Progressive Conservatives have the support of 48 per cent of voters provincewide, compared with just 26 per cent for the NDP, 20 per cent for the Liberals and six per cent for other parties (presumably the Green party). In Winnipeg, the Tories are at 41 per cent, with the NDP trailing at 29, the Liberals at 23 and other at six.

Those aren't the kind of numbers that would normally cause a government to call an election two years before the expiry of its mandate, but the current state of Manitoba politics is far from normal. There are several factors that point to the conclusion the NDP has a far better chance of winning an election now than they will in the spring of 2016.

While the NDP has active riding associations in more than 40 of Manitoba's 57 ridings, the Tories, Liberals and Greens don't possess the organizational infrastructure to win an election this spring. The Tories lack active associations in almost half of the province's ridings, while the Liberals have only a handful and the Greens have none. Most of those problems will be fixed by 2016.

The Probe results indicate 26 per cent of Manitobans would vote for either Liberal or Green candidates (29 per cent in Winnipeg), but both of those parties have leadership issues at present that soften their current levels of support. Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari is a political neophyte who is still unknown to many Manitobans. James Beddome resigned as Green party leader in November, and the party has not yet scheduled a leadership contest.

Probe found 22 per cent of voters are undecided as to which party they would support. That number will likely shrink over the next two years, as Manitobans become more familiar with Bokhari and more comfortable with the idea of Tory Leader Brian Pallister as premier.

An NDP victory in 2014 could cause a leadership crisis for the Tories, as it is doubtful Pallister would be willing to remain as opposition leader until an election in 2018, when he will be 64 years old.

Manitoba's financial condition is unlikely to improve during the next two years, and could worsen as cuts in federal transfers are felt. Questions over the viability of Manitoba Hydro will become more urgent. Neither issue will make it easier for the NDP to win a 2016 election.

Manitoba's fixed-election law is an obstacle to an election call this spring, but it is not insurmountable. First, the law is not binding. Second, most Manitobans would not object to an election called by a newly elected party leader, seeking a mandate of his or her own from the public.

That brings us the key component of this strategy -- Greg Selinger must resign as premier and party leader in order for it to have a chance of succeeding.

It is an ancient mariner's maxim that "the captain goes down with the ship." There is no rule, however, that a sinking ship must go down with its captain, especially if it can be saved by tossing the captain overboard.

The NDP's plunge in public support was caused by the premier's decision to ignore the law and raise the PST without a provincial referendum. He created this crisis, but he can help fix it by taking the blame and making way for a new leader with a fresh agenda.

Selinger and the NDP are at a political crossroads. They can serve out the remaining two years of their mandate -- facing almost certain electoral defeat, lost jobs and at least four years with Pallister as Manitoba's premier -- or they can seize the tactical advantages that currently exist, by electing a new leader and calling a snap election they might win.

The choice, which is Selinger's to make, should be obvious.

 

Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

deverynrossletters@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2014 0

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