Heading into next month's provincial election, it appears the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives will sell themselves as the "sensible" alternative to a decade-plus of NDP rule.
A draft copy of the Tory campaign blueprint, obtained by the Free Press, shows that in this campaign, Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen is trying to project a stable, small 'c' conservative image.
This is a key election for McFadyen who, despite handling himself quite well in the legislature on a day-to-day basis, is still struggling to prove he is ready to serve as premier. The draft also confirms what many political observers have been noting for a few weeks now: McFadyen has officially become the brand for his party. The draft platform is called "McFadyen 2011," and campaign literature and signage are already showing up with McFadyen prominently showcased.
This is at the heart of the risk-reward equation for the Tories. The NDP believe, backed up by polling and focus groups, that McFadyen still carries high "negatives" with some voters. They believe voters will see him as too young and too inexperienced to be taken seriously. The dilemma facing the Tories is they must promote McFadyen as the face of their party if he has any chance of overcoming that perception.
What else have the Tories dished up for voters in this campaign? Like all good, competitive campaign platforms, McFadyen 2011 has a healthy dose of risk mixed in with the safer, motherhood pledges and issues. And the draft copy is clearly and deliberately missing some key issues the Tories will have to address before the campaign is over: health care, education and justice. This is, by all accounts, a document designed to leave some big issues to the imagination. This may have been done to facilitate a controlled leak, or to keep some of the sexier aspects of the platform away from candidates until the campaign is formally underway.
That's not surprising given McFadyen's decision to launch his campaign on Wednesday of this week, six days before Premier Greg Selinger is expected to formally ask for the legislature to be dissolved and the writs of election to be issued. McFadyen is playing a hunch here, namely that he can go big and go early and get a week of media exposure and public debate before the NDP can even begin the phrase, "an NDP government promises..."
So what did the Tories provide as a tease? The Tory platform does not contain any shocking departures from the policies McFadyen and his caucus have espoused over the past four years. McFadyen would like to make Manitoba a "have" province by weening us off equalization payments from Ottawa. There is a pledge to extend a provincial child-care benefit to families with stay-at-home parents; the provincial benefit would pick up at age six, when the federal benefit ends, and continue to age 12. He would promise to eliminate the provincial deficit by 2018, which is actually four years later than the NDP has promised. McFadyen will tell voters Selinger has lied to the electorate about the depth of the province's financial woes, and by pushing back the date by which the deficit is eliminated he will show he is more cautious and accountable. That's going to be a tough sell in this campaign.
And, of course, he would reroute Manitoba Hydro's Bipole III transmission line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg.
If nothing else, McFayden has been consistent on this pledge. He believes the NDP decision to build a longer and more expensive transmission line down the west side of Lake Manitoba, largely to avoid a backlash from environmentalists bent on protecting the forest east of Lake Winnipeg, is the best example of NDP mismanagement. This is perhaps his greatest risk.
It is unclear that a large enough slice of the Manitoba electorate cares one way or the other about Bipole III to connect it to NDP mismanagement. And every time McFadyen mentions "Manitoba Hydro," the NDP will howl about how the Tories would, if elected, sell the Crown utility. There is no evidence to suggest he would sell it, and in fact he has promised never to sell it. But every single time the word "Hydro" comes out of McFadyen's mouth, the NDP are going to pick that scab. And there is evidence to suggest the Tories know that allegation, as unfounded as it may be, is hurting them.
This will be McFadyen's greatest test. The election in 2007 was not a fair fight, with the Tories hobbled by financial limitations and some very poor candidate selection. This time around, they've been better at picking their issues and enunciating their positions.
However, they are putting up some targets for an NDP government that has proven itself to be formidable in an election. McFadyen 2011 needs to move the Tories forward.
Even the smallest backward step will mean there is no McFadyen 2015.
The PC platform
Major pledges in "McFadyen 2011," the Manitoba Progressive Conservative election campaign platform:
- Implement an ecological goods and services program to provide financial resources to landowners to preserve natural wetlands and riparian areas.
- Terminate $2-per-head cattle levy and find other ways of expanding slaughter capacity in Manitoba.
- Make purchase of value-added agricultural processing equipment PST-exempt to promote expansion of processing and value-added ventures.
- Immediate decision to reroute the Bipole III transmission line to the east side of Lake Winnipeg, instead of the longer and more costly route around the west of Lake Manitoba.
- Pledge to never sell nor privatize Manitoba Hydro while continuing to pursue UNESCO world heritage site designation for the boreal forest in the same region.
- Join the New West Partnership, an evolving union of the governments of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
- Provide funds to pave unpaved back lanes in Winnipeg.
- Creation of a local government infrastructure fund to target infrastructure projects that result in the greatest economic growth.
Reducing waste and fiscal mismanagement
- Elimination of the enhanced Manitoba driver's licence to save $13 million
- Reduce administration costs at regional health authorities and transfer savings to front-line health care.
- Elimination of the per-vote subsidy now paid to registered political parties.
- Balance the provincial budget by 2018, four years later than the NDP is currently targeting, to ensure there are no new tax increases or program cuts.
- Publish a debt-reduction plan after taking office and performing a detailed review of government spending.
- End practice of charging PST on services provided to municipalities.
- Creation of a new training credit equal to 10 per cent of a company's total annual payroll.
- No harmonization of PST with the federal Goods and Services tax.
- Cuts to personal income tax.
- Introduce child-care benefit similar to federal program that supports stay-at-home parents.
- Expand and/or extend the home renovation tax credit, and the fitness tax credit.
- Extend $700 property tax credit to cottage owners to make cottage ownership more affordable.