January 19, 2020

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Grit surge last thing Tories want

Collapse of NDP will put city Liberals in Commons

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/9/2015 (1576 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Everyone knew going into this federal election campaign the Conservative party was going to need a little luck in the form of vote-splitting if it was to keep its 11 seats in Manitoba.

Vote-splitting has become particularly important in this campaign, the closest three-way federal race in postwar history.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper


Conservative Leader Stephen Harper

Lamentably for the Conservatives, the likelihood of vote-splitting among centre-left voters appears to be evaporating in Manitoba as the NDP, still running strong in other provinces, becomes little more than an afterthought here.

Probe Research polling numbers show the tight three-way race across the country is really just a two-horse race here in Manitoba between the Conservatives and Liberals. The federal NDP is running a distant third in this province, perhaps as a result of the diminishing popularity of the provincial government.

The NDP federal campaign in Manitoba has done everything to confirm what we're now seeing from Probe: a lacklustre effort that shows the party is only concerned about the outcome of three ridings: Winnipeg Centre, held by incumbent MP Pat Martin; Elmwood Transcona, where the NDP hopes to take back a seat from one-term Tory MP Lawrence Toet; and Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, the domain of incumbent NDP MP Niki Ashton.

Beyond that, the NDP has pretty much mailed in its campaign. The party was very late to nominate candidates in several ridings. And just this week, the party's candidate in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley imploded after embarrassing tweets surfaced.

The NDP's amateur effort in Manitoba is exactly what the Conservatives did not want to happen.

Although there are only a handful of ridings where a combined Liberal-NDP vote in the 2011 election exceeded the Conservative vote, there are a few where a collapse of NDP support will most likely put a Liberal in the House of Commons.

Conservatives were counting on tangible NDP resistance in Winnipeg South, Saint Boniface-Saint Vital and Winnipeg South Centre. The NDP had no chance of winning any of those ridings, but the Tories were hoping the NDP — still soaring at unprecedented heights of support nationally — would be able to eat into Liberal support.

And it's just not going to happen.

According to the most recent Probe numbers, the Liberals and Conservatives are tied at 39 per cent support provincewide. However, the poll shows the Grits amassing a big lead in Winnipeg. Outside Winnipeg, the Tories are in no danger of losing any seats. Inside the city, however, they could lose at least three seats to the Liberals and one seat to the NDP.

The fate of the New Democrats in Manitoba is tougher to predict. The NDP started off the campaign by admitting it had modest goals, possibly because the NDP provincial government is not well-liked here at the moment. The odd thing about that — particularly when you overlay the provincial poll results from Probe — is Winnipeg is not scorched earth for the NDP.

In fact, even as provincewide support for Premier Greg Selinger's government has fallen, the NDP remains remarkably, improbably competitive in Winnipeg against the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives. One would think federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair would have seen that as an opportunity.

Instead, the NDP has shown little interest in Manitoba. There is no doubt the NDP had little hope of winning in seats where Liberals are strongest. However, one has to wonder whether a deliberately poor showing in all but two ridings in Winnipeg might not cast a pall over the party's chances in Winnipeg Centre and Elmwood-Transcona, the two seats the party really wants to win.

The Probe poll results suddenly suggest Pat Martin's hold on Winnipeg Centre may not be as strong as we once thought it was. Martin did not do himself any favours this past week when he was caught tossing expletives and off-colour remarks at his political opponents.

That boorish performance has taken on a life of its own, in large part because it provides such contrast to the presence of the charismatic Robert-Falcon Ouellette, he of the mercurial performance in last year's mayoral election.

Early on in this campaign, it seemed highly improbable Ouellette had much of a chance in a riding that has among the lowest voter turnouts in the country. However, that trend could work to his advantage now.

If the Liberals are surging in Winnipeg, and the Probe results suggest they are, then it might not take much to engage a significant number of estranged voters in Winnipeg Centre. It's quite likely those voters would be coming forward to vote for someone other than Martin.

The result of this campaign nationally is very much in doubt. In Manitoba, the Probe results show it's coming down to a Liberal-Conservative battle for the lion's share of the seats in Winnipeg.

The NDP, on the other hand, is looking more and more like the third-place finisher in a two-seat game of musical chairs.



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