Bokhari the one to watch

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BRANDON — Pundits and pollsters from Ontario claim the result of Manitoba’s provincial election is largely a foregone conclusion. Using data compiled over the past several weeks by out-of-province polling companies, they say Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives are rolling to a huge majority in the legislature, with the New Democrats likely to finish a distant second and the Liberals further back with just a handful of seats.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/03/2016 (2340 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRANDON — Pundits and pollsters from Ontario claim the result of Manitoba’s provincial election is largely a foregone conclusion. Using data compiled over the past several weeks by out-of-province polling companies, they say Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives are rolling to a huge majority in the legislature, with the New Democrats likely to finish a distant second and the Liberals further back with just a handful of seats.

Ignore the projections. There is plenty of science behind them but also ample reason to doubt them. Not because they are being made by persons less familiar with the dynamics of Manitoba politics, but rather because the polling data we see today will likely bear scant resemblance to the results April 19.

Polling numbers change during every election campaign, but one issue in this campaign makes voter intention more volatile than in most elections and the winner far more difficult to predict.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari mugs for a selfie with party candidates at a morning press conference Thursday.

The outcome of this election will not be determined on the state of the province’s finances, the plight of health care and education, nor the future of Manitoba Hydro. It hinges on just one question: can Rana Bokhari’s Liberals retain the level of support they enjoy in the polls?

If the Liberals do that, Pallister will be premier a month from now, with the only question to be decided by Manitobans on election day being whether the NDP or the Liberals would be most effective in holding the new Tory government accountable for its decisions.

Such a scenario is possible, but there are compelling reasons why it is unlikely to occur. First, there is a long, multi-election history of the Liberals rising in the polls before elections, only to see many of those voters shift to the NDP on election day. In 2011, support plummeted to just eight per cent.

Bokhari’s Liberals hope those Manitobans who voted for Liberal candidates in last October’s federal election will vote for provincial Liberal candidates this spring. Given the strong support received by the federal Liberals in Winnipeg and Brandon last fall, such a scenario could propel her to the premier’s chair.

That outcome is more fantasy than reality, however. Most federal Liberal supporters who voted for NDP candidates in past provincial elections are sophisticated enough to know a vote for Bokhari and her fellow Liberal candidates isn’t a vote for Justin Trudeau.

Second, Bokhari is running out of time to make a favourable impression with voters. Following last week’s disappointing interview with the editorial board of the Free Press, the next day’s editorial (Bokhari is just not ready yet) correctly declared “She’s got a long way to go before she can be viewed as a strong alternative to the NDP on April 19.”

Her shaky performance in a leaders debate hosted by CJOB last Monday only served to amplify those concerns. On a number of important issues facing the province, she failed to display the depth of knowledge Manitobans expect from someone aspiring to be premier.

Third, the Liberals have had a difficult time finding candidates for all 57 ridings, and there are doubts they have the money necessary to compete at the same level as the Tories and New Democrats.

If the Liberals fail to retain their support — at this point, the more likely outcome — then all bets are off when it comes to the election’s result.

That is because multiple polls have found the Tories have not really grown in support, either inside or outside Winnipeg since the 2011 election, when they were trounced by the NDP. The Tories have hit a hard ceiling, a conclusion underscored by polling data showing very few NDP and Liberal supporters are willing to consider switching their votes to PC candidates.

That same data reveal almost all of the support lost by the NDP has shifted to the Liberals, but many of those “lost” NDP voters remain willing to consider switching back to the NDP. If that happens, a Tory majority becomes far less certain, and a re-elected NDP government a reasonable possibility.

Bokhari is the one to watch in this election. Her performance over the next month will determine who is our next premier.

Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

deverynrossletters@gmail.com Twitter: @deverynross

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