Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/10/2011 (3547 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Some time between 2007 and well before Tuesday night, the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba lost its way. Facing the predictable branding by the NDP as a hack and slash party, the Tories made a strategic turn to the left. It didn't work, and little wonder. Manitoba already has one NDP; it doesn't need two.
Winnipeg voters in potential swing ridings on Tuesday were given real choice with some formidable candidates from the Progressive Conservative camp, but even in ridings once held by the Tories, the voters chose again to hand New Democrats their seats. Only in Kirkfield Park, with less than 50 votes separating incumbent NDP Sharon Blady and Conservative Kelly de Groot, will there be a recount.
Even, in the slim chance, if this riding falls to the Conservatives, there is no celebration from the election for Hugh McFadyen and his team. The party was deliberate in branding this campaign as that of the leader -- election advertising put him front and centre. It was unavoidably apparent that in choosing to promote the leader, the party was relegating the Conservative moniker to the background.
In its promises, its promotions and the tenor of debate, the Progressive Conservative Party consciously disavowed its roots. Mr. McFadyen, early in the campaign, told voters that the Filmon government -- in which he was a central player in the mid-1990s -- made mistakes, went too far in its restraints, cost-cutting that was a legitimate response to the fiscal pressures of the day. That sat uneasily with people who know the leader's history. He spoke of the Filmon Tories as "they" in attempt to paint a "them and us" picture of the party that didn't square with the facts.
The party tried to elbow into the political centre, where the NDP is so firmly planted, to win more seats in Winnipeg. Along with the abandonment of the right went the Tories' tradition of fiscal conservatism: Promising to extend the deficit to 2018, four years longer than the NDP's schedule, eviscerated the party's soul. It was easy, thereafter, to promise more of what the New Democrats had on offer. Once tasted, deficit financing proved insatiable.
Hugh McFadyen did the honourable thing on election night, announcing his resignation. He wagered high with his strategy and lost, and he wears the results. It would be untenable for Mr. McFadyen to rework the Tory brand again; having taken the party in a risky, implausible direction he has no authority to revert to conservatism again.
And that is where the party must go. Some believe that the Progressive Conservatives' fortunes now lie with a new look -- find the best woman available for the job and elect her leader, goes the word from the street. That's putting the cart ahead of the horse. Serious political parties need first to appeal to voters with basic principles in political thought that set them apart from others on the ballot.
The Progressive Conservatives need to find themselves again, to remember what it is that conservatives are about, what the party will do for Manitobans that the NDP or Liberals are incapable of offering. The selection of leader needs to reflect those fundamentals; Hugh McFadyen has almost all of what the modern political world expects of a well-packaged leader. He is articulate, bright, fast on his feet, personable, ambitious and well turned out. The message, however, fell short of the mark for too many voters who didn't buy what he was selling.
Back at the drawing board, Conservatives will have to recognize that in this election Manitobans noticed they had lost their way and were simply outspending the NDP. In disavowing conservatism, the party asked too much of people increasingly unsure of what the party stood for. If you can't respect, in the least, your history as a party, how can you expect anyone else to?
Manitobans need political options. The Progressive Conservatives need not revert to the personality of a former administration, but they must offer real choice in their political brand.