Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/4/2016 (2222 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitobans weren’t just tired of their government, they were fed up. In fact, after 16 years of NDP rule, they were done; done with the deception, the unchecked spending, the backbiting. The macabre drama of a party eating itself alive. And they turned out Tuesday to end it all, sweeping Brian Pallister’s Tories into power with a historic seat count of 41.
The last time voters in this province gave such an endorsement to a party was in 1915, when the Liberals bagged 40 seats. The Progressive Conservatives have never seen such love in the party’s entire history in Manitoba.
But this win was not so much about Mr. Pallister, personally — he is a hard sell; even his in-laws had a hard time warming up to the guy, as the story goes. It may be the first time, in fact, a party won so big with a leader who could barely crack 30 per cent likeability in opinion polls. No, this was about Manitoba turning its back on the NDP, and that party’s failure to redeem itself for what came to be seen as Mr. Selinger’s double-cross on a tax hike. It was a humiliating rout for a party that had won progressively greater majorities over four elections, now punted into Opposition with what looked to be a mere 13 seats. That comes close to the party’s rout in 1988.
The damage went wide and deep. Steve Ashton, who held the seat of Thompson for 35 years, fell. The ministers of finance and of health were beaten. Mr. Selinger returns to the legislature, but humbled by a dramatically reduced plurality in his St. Boniface riding.
Mr. Selinger wears this stunning loss, both in his management of government and his tack in the campaign. And finally, Tuesday night, he conceded the party is better off without him, resigning as leader. But the NDP is not alone in this political reckoning. The Liberals today must also consider their future, despite the fact they increased the number of MLAs. But Rana Bokhari was not among them, having lost her first bid for a seat in Fort Rouge, to NDP star candidate Wab Kinew. The fact is the Liberals entered the campaign with everything to gain, but it was squandered largely by a leader who didn’t measure up. By mid-campaign, Ms. Bokhari was widely recognized as too green for the job.
Experience counts and Mr. Pallister, a seasoned politician with the most to lose in this election, ably battled a barrage of NDP scare tactics with a cautious campaign. He assured frontline public servants their jobs were safe; he promised not to sell Manitoba Hydro, (so there is at least one sacred cow). He would not set a deadline for balancing the budget. Yoked with the Filmon-era legacy of fiscal restraint, this Conservative leader saw he could not win Manitobans’ trust with a tough-love fiscal policy.
What now? If Mr. Pallister is true to his word, Manitobans can expect to see very little change. Immediately, there will be tax cuts most people will barely notice. The tougher stuff, such as cutting ER wait times, will take longer to do because many of the promises must first wait for the work of task forces and value-for-money audits to begin.
Manitobans have given the Conservatives a clear and convincing mandate. Once again, the changing of the guard on Broadway has come with a vow to usher in an era of open, transparent and trustworthy government. That will be tested when the scrutiny bears down, as the inevitable scandals emerge and as the government is made to account for unmet promises. The Tories will be known by their actions, how they engage with the media and by the length of time they spend in the House, under the watch of question period.
Mr. Pallister’s solid victory was built upon a cautious platform, designed to appeal to Manitobans’ preference for moderate, middle-of-the-road politics. He should govern accordingly.