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This article was published 25/7/2012 (3009 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Former MP and MLA Brian Pallister is about to become the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba. It's a difficult time to be Conservative leader since the NDP haven't left much political room on the right.
The defining moment for our hapless Conservatives came in Gary Doer's last election. Hugh McFadyen hung his campaign on cutting taxes. Doer was more in touch with Manitobans. He made it a referendum; vote NDP and get better community centres for your kids, vote PC and get $100 in tax relief.
Next election, McFadyen moved to the centre. He failed because the centre was already full of experienced, intelligent non-ideological New Democrats. While the Conservatives abandoned tax cuts in favour of a slow return to a balanced budget, they found themselves on the left of the NDP, a situation that was going to become more and more common.
Now we have had NDP government under Greg Selinger. Strangely, the NDP has moved farther to the right, squeezing the poor Progressive Conservatives into a smaller and smaller space.
Tough on crime! That should be a winner for the Conservatives. Nope. Under Andrew Swan, Manitoba has hired more police and is building more jail cells than any other jurisdiction. Manitoba still has the highest crime rate as the NDP demonstrates Tory crime strategies don't work.
How about taxes? Income tax, corporate tax and valued-added taxes are identified as progressive taxes. Those with more pay more. Manitoba Conservatives were ready to attack the last budget. Between the flood and an economic slowdown, it was clear there was going to be a huge deficit.
But how do you plug the deficit without raising taxes? Well, you follow Sam Katz and use flat taxes, otherwise known as user fees. Entrance to a provincial park? Flat tax -- rich and poor pay the same. Raise tuition at university? Flat tax. Increase fees for everything from a marriage licence to a divorce? The flat tax is no big deal if you are one of the one per cent, but it sure costs if you earn minimum wage.
The NDP has established itself as the party of good government. It handled the biggest-ever flood skilfully and transparently. The highways are being fixed. Unemployment is low. Hydro-electric dams, among the cleanest energy sources in the world, are being built.
The NDP failures are in the inner city and the North, where they are guaranteed re-election. The NDP has failed on crime, but it really only affects inner-city folk. The NDP has failed in Child and Family Services, with the highest number of kids in care in history. But that mainly affects the inner city and the North. The number of kids not attending school is beyond belief. But again, they are mostly inner-city kids or a federal responsibility in the North. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a massive, long-term problem and growing rapidly, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Again, the problem is in the North and the inner city.
What is poor Pallister to do? He can't win on inner-city issues.
Social conservatism won't work, as was demonstrated in Alberta when the Wild Rose Party flirted with denying global warming and accepted candidates who were clearly racist and homophobic.
Manitoba Conservatives actually agree with the NDP in the areas where the NDP is failing. On crime, they can't build more jails or hire more police, the NDP has done that already. Apprehend more children? Oops, the NDP is way ahead there. Deal with FASD, that's dangerous territory trying to legislate morality; better join the NDP and pretend it's just a tiny problem. School attendance, get tough with parents, oh, the NDP did that already, it's not working. The Conservatives could call for even bigger fines.
I'm sure Pallister has his brain trust developing new policies. They better be aware that the NDP has pretty well covered the centre right of the political spectrum, which Conservatives need if they are to win an election.
Sel Burrows is a Point Douglas
activist and longtime New Democrat.
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