With the Battle on Broadway raging in NDP ranks, opportunity is knocking pretty hard right now for Manitoba's opposition parties.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/10/2014 (2545 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

With the Battle on Broadway raging in NDP ranks, opportunity is knocking pretty hard right now for Manitoba's opposition parties.

It is not clear, however, that the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals can answer that door.

The early returns on opposition performance in the wake of the unprecedented infighting that is threatening to cripple the NDP government have been mixed to say the least.

The Liberals, under leader Rana Bokhari, have been moving at a glacial pace to respond to the leadership crisis in the NDP government.

The first hint NDP ministers and MLAs were moving to oust Premier Greg Selinger came on Oct. 24. It took until Oct. 30 for Bokhari to utter a word about what was happening. In the digital age, where news is updated hourly, that is too long to wait to engage on a pressing political story.

Unless Bokhari had some other pressing personal issue that rendered her unable to wade into the debate, this is compelling evidence that despite solid poll numbers, the Grit leader and her team are simply not qualified to compete for the right to form government.

Tory Leader Brian Pallister, on the other hand, engaged quickly on this story, and for the most part has been spot on in his criticism of the NDP for ignoring government matters to engage in a bitter internal battle.

The problem for Pallister is that with an unprecedented opportunity to galvanize the support needed to form his own government, and bury the NDP once and for all, he continues to struggle on the most basic policy issues.

On Wednesday, Pallister was gracious enough to participate in the Free Press's first-ever live webcast editorial board meeting, held at the Free Press News Café. Prior to this, editorial-board sessions were held in boardrooms away from the prying eyes of the public.

This time, however, the entire session was transmitted live on our website. It was an intense, revealing, completely unedited interaction with the man who is, according to polls, likely to win the next election.

At times, we were reminded just how incomplete many of Pallister's plans really are. He was asked to explain, once again, how he would roll back the one-point hike in the PST now dedicated to infrastructure -- a central Tory pledge -- and still maintain current spending on roads, bridges and sewer/water projects.

Pallister said he can replace the $260 million generated by the PST increase via cost savings without cutting infrastructure spending, laying off staff or cutting core services.

When pressed, Pallister impatiently said that despite not having outlined how he will find hundreds of millions of dollars in savings without fewer people or services, it can be done. "I guess you'll just have to take me at my word on that."

To be frank, politicians should never ask journalists or voters to take a major pledge on faith. Politicians have a duty to fully explain their plans in ways that allow voters to make informed decisions. In other words, 'trust me' is not a winning campaign slogan.

However, the most remarkable revelation from the editorial-board session was Pallister's evolving position on Bipole III, the transmission line Manitoba Hydro wants to build from northern generating stations to domestic and international customers in the south.

On Oct. 24, Pallister called the project -- now estimated to cost $4.6 billion -- "the biggest boondoggle in the history of Manitoba." He said he would cancel it, even if that meant power exports to American customers.

At the editorial-board meeting, however, Pallister admitted so much money has been spent on Bipole III already, he may not be able to cancel the project.

When pressed, Pallister said he did not have all the information on money spent to date -- a remarkable claim given the glut of numbers available through the Public Utilities Board -- and so could not promise to cancel the project, as he had just a week earlier.

"Until I see that information, I won't give you a definitive answer," he said.

This, along with the continuing awkwardness with which he discusses his fiscal plans, should be enough to give voters concern. Using an unpopular government to sweep into power is one thing; not having a viable plan of your own is something completely different.

As the battle between Selinger and the dissidents drags on with no end in sight, the opportunity for another leader from another party to position themselves to form government continues to grow. However, a lame-duck NDP is no excuse for opposition leaders bringing anything less than their 'A' game.

Right now, with their performance to date, Pallister and Bokhari are demonstrating pretty clearly they don't have much of a game of any kind.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

   Read full biography
   Sign up for Dan Lett’s email newsletter, Not for Attribution