Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Fort Whyte By-Election

Brian Pallister Elected to the Legislature

It was a solid win for the new leader of the Progressive Conservatives. By all accounts, the election team of Brian Pallister ran and efficient and enthusiastic campaign in one of the safest city ridings for the PCs in town. It was a lower voter turn-out as one might expect of a summer election but it set the stage for a fall where the governing NDP will face a united opposition party with both a leader the house, a re-shuffled shadow cabinet and a new determination to press on the issues.

The percentage of the vote that Pallister won by was lower than the heady numbers of the previous election. It would have been hard to match the numbers of the former incumbent MLA and leader. Pallister was not well known in the riding and he lived outside of it. As a result, the PC leader was down 7% in the vote but still won a a decisive 55% of the vote.

The NDP ran an outsider in the riding as well. Aside from a cynical promise for 85 daycare spaces in Linden Woods on the eve of the election, the NDP ran a campaign where they tried not to draw too much attention. The result of this strategy was a 18% decline of their vote and third place finish. It was the worst finish for the NDP in the riding since its inception. Their vote total was 11%.

The Liberals running Bob Axworthy as candidate had the best showing in the riding ever. Their vote was up 23% and their overall vote tally was 31%. Axworthy was the only local candidate and drew star power via the family name and with help from senior Liberals. While the overall results were impressive, even a combined opposition vote would not have been enough to win the day. Still, an impressive showing as acknowledged by both Pallister and Greg Selinger.

What does this mean for Greg Selinger and the NDP? Short term: nothing. The election is a long way off. The governing party has a solid majority, money in the bank and a ready campaign team for ridings they need to win again.

Are their long term warning signs? Yes. The Liberals will have a new leader in the coming year. The collapse of the Liberal vote generally works in favour of the NDP. In many suburban ridings, a stronger Liberal vote could spell trouble for NDP candidates.

Major issues related to Manitoba Hydro and provincial finances loom. The NDP ran into trouble in the 1980s a result of having a backlash due to rising rates on a variety of items from Autopac to taxes.

It is a long way away from an election but fixed election dates might not be a good thing for timing. There are some indications that the government might change when the election happens. This is in part to the fact that federal, provincial and city elections could all be around the same times. I expect that we might see an earlier result but it depends on what is happening with the economy.

In the lead up though, I expect the NDP to hammer the PCs on them selling Hydro. They will also try to create a perception of Pallister as heartless and a right wing cutter.

The PCs under Pallister will focus on financial management of the economy.

Greg Selinger is probably hoping that overall economic growth will overshadow the problems Hydro now faces.

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