Manitoba voters have their left-turn signals on Polls show NDP will replace PC government at legislature next year; Murray leading in mayoral race

Manitoba’s political landscape is about to undergo a major shift. If the polls are correct and voter sentiment remains largely unchanged, about a year from now NDP Leader Wab Kinew will be Manitoba’s premier and Glen Murray will be mayor of Winnipeg.

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Opinion

Manitoba’s political landscape is about to undergo a major shift. If the polls are correct and voter sentiment remains largely unchanged, about a year from now NDP Leader Wab Kinew will be Manitoba’s premier and Glen Murray will be mayor of Winnipeg.

It would be similar to 1999, when the NDP under former premier Gary Doer won government after 11 years in opposition, and Murray (yeah, the same Murray) won the mayor’s chair the previous year. Doer defeated a Tory government and Murray narrowly beat out a business-backed Peter Kaufmann.

The election of a provincial NDP government and a left-leaning mayor wasn’t exactly the socialist extravaganza many had expected. A politically astute Doer moved his party closer to the political centre, espousing balanced budgets and ushering in tax cuts, much to the chagrin of orthodox New Democrats. Murray, who as a city councillor was previously endorsed by the left-leaning “Winnipeg into the 90s” group, was also eager to show the business community and others he had undergone a political transformation. There was, in those days, political currency in shifting from left to right, even if modestly. Doer phased out the business tax, cut income taxes and balanced the books most years, while Murray reduced property taxes by six per cent.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

NDP Leader Wab Kinew tends to espouse left-leaning ideas, but also claims to be fiscally responsible and wants Manitobans to know they can trust him with their money.

What would an NDP-Glen Murray political landscape look like today? Nothing like it did 20 years ago. For starters, no one will be cutting taxes. In fact, it appears inevitable that no matter who wins the mayor’s chair, Winnipeg property taxes will rise beyond the 2.33 per cent increase that’s been in place for the past several years. Even conservative-minded mayoral candidate Scott Gillingham (ranked second behind Murray in the latest Probe Research poll) has said he would raise property taxes beyond that level if he wins.

After he quit his job as mayor in 2004, Murray went on to serve in cabinet under left-leaning Ontario Liberal premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. Following that, he sought the leadership of the federal Green Party, also a party on the political left, and lost. It would seem Murray has rekindled the leftist roots he once embraced as a young Winnipeg councillor.

Kinew’s political leanings are not as easily assessed, mostly because he’s still relatively new to politics and has never held public office. After a brief stint as a CBC reporter and the release of a book about the transformation of his life, Kinew ran for the NDP in 2016 and subsequently won the party’s leadership. He tends to espouse left-leaning ideas, including an aversion to private-sector involvement in almost any aspect of government. But he also claims to be fiscally responsible and wants Manitobans to know they can trust him with their money.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Glen Murray, who as a city councillor was previously endorsed by the left-leaning “Winnipeg into the 90s” group, was also eager to show the business community and others he had undergone a political transformation.

It’s hard to imagine that together, an NDP government under Kinew and a Murray-led city hall (depending on the makeup of city council) would be anything but a left-leaning juggernaut that would transform the face of politics in Manitoba. For some, that would be a welcome change; for others, a nightmare.

The Kinew-Murray scenario is not a foregone conclusion. Murray has a handsome lead in the polls, but the undecided vote at 39 per cent is relatively high. Also, there are still four weeks left in the campaign. A short-tempered and sometimes erratic Murray is prone to outbursts and is susceptible to any manner of odd behaviour between now and election day. Upon closer examination, Winnipeg voters may wonder what the former mayor really has to offer, beyond the back-of-a-napkin, pie-in-the-sky pledges he’s offered so far.

Kinew’s fate is a little more certain. The latest provincial Probe Research poll has the Tories still at rock-bottom in Winnipeg (where they’ve been for over a year) at 25 per cent, versus 52 per cent for the NDP. If they can’t improve on that, they have precisely zero chance of hanging on to government in next year’s provincial election, scheduled for Oct. 3. Anything can happen in a year, and one can never underestimate the dynamics of an election campaign. Still, it appears highly improbable that Heather Stefanson will be the premier a year from now.

In all likelihood, we will be writing about Manitoba’s shift to the political left under “premier” Wab Kinew and “mayor” Glen Murray.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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