It’s the economy, stupid.
That pretty much sums up what the NDP will be telling us over the next six weeks.
Premier Greg Selinger and his candidates will pound home the message that we are where we are because of the hard work of the NDP in making Manitoba’s economy as strong as it is compared to other provinces. Manitoba weathered the most recent recession just fine, they’ll say, and it stands to weather the next one even better because of the New Democrats’ five-year economic recovery plan introduced in the spring of 2010.
"The tone of the campaign is where do we want to take the province," Selinger said recently. "It will focus on how we want to grow the economy."
Certainly, the NDP will recite numbers on employment, wages, retail sales and immigration, but the icing on the economic good times is the arrival of the Winnipeg Jets back in the city. The NDP will by no means take credit for that, but they will take credit for helping to create the economic conditions for it to happen and for season tickets to sell out as fast as they did.
In the next breath, Selinger will say a Tory government under Hugh McFadyen could have sabotaged that by cutting services and government spending — as the Tories did in the 1990s — if they were in power when the recession knocked on the province’s door in late 2009.
"We’re growing the economy," Selinger said. "And we’re doing that without leaving people out in the cold."
What’s also helped the NDP is Selinger’s maturity as leader. He no longer comes across as a nerd. His handlers have quietly coiffed him premier material with better suits and given him a big injection of patience, especially with the media and the public. Selinger still doesn’t work a room like his predecessor Gary Doer, but he’s certainly less shy and bookwormy than he used to be.
The result is Manitobans see him as a man now comfortable in the job, with his suit jacket off and shirt sleeves rolled up ready to make the tough decisions.
Perhaps the biggest example of this was his province-wide TV address during the height of the spring flood in May when he told Manitobans the province was going to sacrifice homes south of Portage La Prairie to stop dikes from breaking on the Assiniboine River and flooding out even more people.
It’s images like this the NDP must continue to portray of Selinger if it wants to hold off McFadyen’s challenge that the New Democrats are tired and desperate and should be voted out of office.
How can Jon survive?
Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard wants to be the voice of reason in this campaign.
While the New Democrats and Tories chirp at each other over the coming weeks, Gerrard and his candidates want to come up through the smoke and be a viable third choice.
"We want to provide a different and distinctive point of view," Gerrard recently told reporters. "We want to provide a third alternative."
That won’t be easy. The Liberals at the national level didn’t connect at all with voters in the May federal election. Some believe what happened then will carry over to Oct. 4 and that the provincial Liberals will be wiped off the map and left with no seats in the 57-seat legislature.
Pollsters point to this possibility with the recent poll numbers that lock the NDP and PCs in a dead heat at 44 per cent, leaving Gerrard’s Liberals with only nine per cent support.
Forces are already at play to make sure at least Gerrard stays competitive in River Heights, a riding he’s held since 1999. The NDP is running first-time candidate lawyer Dan Manning as a sacrificial lamb so that Gerrard at least stays competitive against Tory challenger Marty Mortanz.
The local Liberals also took a blow late last year when Inkster MLA Kevin Lamoureux left to represent Winnipeg North in Parliament.
Lamoureux is helping in the provincial campaign with candidates in The Maples and the new riding of Tyndall Park, but his voice as an MLA is missed.