Save for one riding the party is seriously targeting, Manitoba is an afterthought in the NDP’s national campaign, an unexpected shift in a province with deep NDP roots and an NDP premier.
With a measly four per cent of the country’s ridings, Manitoba is always an afterthought for most federal parties. But despite its strong national showing in these early days of the race, the NDP is so far running an anemic local campaign.
The party is first in national polls, but third in Manitoba ones. The NDP has among the poorest federal riding associations, its local war chests relatively light. The party has no nominated candidates in nearly half the province’s ridings and won’t likely have a full slate until month’s end. Since the departure of NDP tactician Liam Martin for a senior post with the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, the party lacks a regional campaign co-ordinator. And in a city where at least five Conservative ridings are up for grabs, the NDP is targeting only one — Elmwood-Transcona. The NDP has largely conceded two other vulnerable constituencies, Winnipeg South and St. Boniface-St. Vital, to Liberal challengers looking to unseat the Tories.
Nationally, the NDP is now running a classic front-runner campaign — safer, more centralized, carefully scripted and less visible. There have been no new policy announcements thus far and Mulcair eschewed public events for two of the first four days of this campaign as he prepares for today’s leader’s debate.
Mulcair, leading in most polls for several months, is fashioning his campaign as a contest between the NDP and Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, casting himself as the only real alternative to the Tories. Mulcair’s campaign message is centered on the need for change and better management of a stagnating economy.
In Manitoba, those national messages are hard to square. The provincial economy is reasonably healthy and unlikely to sink into recession. And in a province where the NDP has been in power for 16 years, it’s tricky to designate the party as agents of change, said Probe Research’s Curtis Brown.
In June, as the unofficial campaign was in full swing, a Probe poll put the NDP at 27 per cent of decided voters in Winnipeg. That put the party in third place, nearly 10 points behind the first-place Tories. Brown said the trickle-up effect of the Selinger government’s unpopularity is the only real explanation for the federal party’s poor showing in Manitoba.
But Elmwood-Transcona candidate Daniel Blaikie said he’s sensing the opposite at the door.
"I’ve been finding on the doorstep people are making the distinction between federal and provincial politics," he said. Blaikie said Manitoba’s solid economy is helping voters imagine a federal NDP government that would be good stewards of the economy, favouring national policies such as infrastructure spending and child care programs that have worked well locally.
Also on the radar among very optimistic New Democrats is Kildonan-St. Paul, where former trustee and council candidate Suzanne Hrynyk is waging an energetic battle in what’s likely to be a three-way race. The Conservatives have easily held the riding in recent elections, but a relative rookie, former Blue Bombers executive Jim Bell, is carrying the Tory banner this time.
And the party may, for the first time, have to backstop veteran MP Pat Martin in his bid for re-election in Winnipeg Centre. There, Martin faces former mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who enjoys name recognition if not a full-court press by the federal Liberal machine.
Not on the radar is Winnipeg North, for years an NDP stronghold, one the party targeted for take-back last election. NDP sources say Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux is seen as too personally popular and nearly impossible to unseat.
— with files from Mia Rabson
2015 Manitoba federal riding map