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Will NDP allow history to repeat itself?

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BRANDON -- If there is one thing Premier Greg Selinger can be thankful for after this week's poll results, it is that Manitoba doesn't have a recall law. That might not save him from those within his own party, however.

On Monday, Angus Reid Public Opinion released the results of a massive survey that indicated just 31 per cent of Manitobans were satisfied with Selinger's performance, well back of Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister (48 per cent) and three points behind Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard (34 per cent).

On Wednesday, a Probe Research poll conducted for the Free Press delivered even worse news for the premier. It found province-wide support for the NDP has plummeted to just 28 per cent among decided voters, 18 points behind Pallister's Tories.

Within the NDP's "Fortress Winnipeg," the NDP now trails the PCs by a 38 per cent-to-34 per cent margin. Among women voters, a vital component of the NDP's traditional base of support, the Tories now hold a 41 per cent-to-31 per cent advantage.

With such dismal poll results for the NDP -- and the likelihood that they will worsen even further once the impact of July's PST increase is felt by Manitobans -- how soon will it be before we hear the phrase "Greg must go!" from within the party?

For many New Democrats, the polling numbers conjure a disturbing sense of d©j vu. They are eerily similar to 1988, when the Pawley government was shellacked in the polls, reduced to third-party status in the election and doomed to a decade on the opposition benches -- a period they still refer to as the "dark days."

It is a scenario that must terrify many caucus members in the Selinger government. For many, their gig as MLA is the best-paying job they have ever had. For a few, it is the only full-time job they have ever had. Many of them have no job to fall back on if they lose their seats in the next election.

Similar considerations are at play for many NDP members who have received plum patronage rewards over the past 14 years. They have grown accustomed to the pay, power and prestige, and fear a change in government that would instantly transform them from "somebody" to "nobody" status.

Then there are the unions that have benefited under this NDP government. They are already warning their membership that a vote for the Tories in the next election is a vote for job losses and cuts in benefits.

With all that anxiety at play, don't expect the NDP caucus, membership and unions to sit quietly while Selinger leads the party on a long, agonizing march to electoral oblivion. The premier is not universally loved by the membership, and that makes it far more likely that yet another round or two of bad poll results could spark a move to replace him with a leader capable of carrying the party to victory in the next election.

While some might expect a series of bad polls would eventually cause Selinger to voluntarily step aside, Probe's Curtis Brown doubts that will happen.

"In the modern political era in Manitoba, only two party leaders have stepped down before an election where their party was defeated," he says.

"The first -- Duff Roblin -- stepped down to unsuccessfully challenge for the national PC leadership. The other -- Howard Pawley -- stepped down after becoming the first premier in Canadian history to be defeated on a motion of no confidence by one of his own backbenchers -- a rare occasion unlikely to be repeated, especially when the current government holds 37 of 57 seats."

The reference to Howard Pawley must worry New Democrats. He ignored signs of impending electoral defeat for too long, resigned too late and left a crippled and divided party that was in no position to fight an election.

Today's New Democrats won't allow history to repeat itself. The party's poor polling numbers are the consequence of Selinger's broken election promises and bungled budget.

If he can't pull the party out of the tailspin he has created, and do it quickly, don't be surprised if many in the party conclude it is time for Greg to go -- and the sooner the better.


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2013 A15

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