Monday, April 18, 2016

Manitoba Election 2016

By any definition the NDP run in Manitoba has been unprecedented. Majority after majority with two different provincial leaders from 1999 on. Think about it. Some kids graduating this year have only known an NDP government in their lives.

The leadership of Gary Doer, a prolonged economic expansion, restored federal transfers and a pragmatic style of government kept unemployment low and deficit-free. It wasn't perfect but there was little for the Progressive Conservative to chip away at.  Long memories of the tough 1990s and the vote rigging scandal and uninspired campaigns chewed through PC leaders.

Gary Doer rode a popular wave with good instincts and a likeability factor that was not and has not been easily replicated. His decision to leave and become Ambassador to the United States was perfectly timed. He left of his own accord which is not the case for a many a politician.

The selection by the NDP of Greg Selinger as leader did achieve another majority for the NDP but at a cost. The promises made of not raising taxes and the adamant dismissal that they would ever do so has affected credibility and popularity.  The shocking rebellion of five senior cabinet ministers and the subsequent leadership race and purging of MLAs and staff afterward can only make an outside observer watch gape mouthed.

The last few years have been tumultuous for the NDP under Greg Selinger. The world-wide economic woes, spring flooding and loose spending habits have pushed surpluses into deficits with no end in sight. As with many governments, the provincial NDP have used spending to keep things moving along. The problem is that they don't seem to be able to stop the flow and continue to blame past governments for their demise. Meanwhile, they have used government ad spending to promote themselves and use slogans that make it difficult to distinguish between government and political party. It is hard not to compare the tactics Greg Selinger with that of Stephen Harper.

The Progressive Conservatives under Brian Pallister have had their share of knocks. In a leader-centric political landscape, the man charged with guiding the party out of the wilderness has been prone to awkward and even confounding statements. Part of this might have be a sense of humour but because many people don't have a sense of the man. As we have learned a little more over the present campaign is that Pallister has been bullied a young man. Tall, bad teeth, living on the edge of his community and too proud to tell even his parents that he didn't always have enough money, he has been and probably always will be a guy that is hard for people to know.

The Tory leader has a provincial as well as federal past that NDP have been gleeful to emphasize in terms negative campaigning. The problem for the NDP is that 17 years is a very long time to blame someone else for the woes your government had to deal with. One major misstep for the NDP was to blame Pallister and others for the death of children back in the 1990s at Children's Hospital. The parents of said children lashed out at using them for them political gain. Moreover, there was no link to the Conservatives for any of what happened at the hospital.

Where Pallister is weak is in disclosure. It is not his wealth that's the problem but that simple questions of where do you live and where were you during a provincial crisis have been met with evasion. In the end though, it is up to the people of Fort Whyte if their candidate lives in River Heights. And likewise, it is up to the overall electorate whether they think their representative should be around in a crisis. The evasion thus far shown has not dented PC support yet but like the former mayor of Winnipeg, it can catch up with you. For the mayor, the evasion in regards to Remembrance Day about where he was really did not play well to the public.

As for the rest of the Costa Rica story and Pallister, there is no evidence of a violation of laws. Still, it will be hard not to be more forthcoming in regards to all politicians in what they do and where they go in the future. The Panama Papers and massive tax fraud already occurring in Canada have made citizens believe there are rules for some and not for others.

This is what politics has become in the last years. It is neverending campaigning and spin, lots of negative advertising, creating a narrative about your opponent, using third party groups to attack and generally being disagreeable. It is cruel and mean spirited. People are lathered up because all they see is that bad and a heavy handed sale job on the rest.

The tit for tat of going over candidates by researching them right down to their birth records is just standard procedure. It is doesn't allow for any evolution though. For example, someone who might have had strong feelings about gay marriage might have a different view now. However, their old statements might be used to hammer them rather considering the journey they took to acceptance. Beware the person who keeps their views close to the vest but secretly seethes with intolerance.

In the months leading to April 19's vote, a lot of people seemed to park their choice with the provincial Liberal party. What seemed favourable conditions has quickly turned bad. Initial soft support due to the situation provincially and some carry over from Trudeau's victory has been offset with rookie leader Rana Bokhari's campaign thus far. Shortly after winning the leadership, the Liberals started fighting as they seem prone to do almost every time. Any hope of putting that behind has been undermined by a spotty campaign since. One can simply not save they don't know if they filed taxes and not have people raise eyebrows.

I continue to be a member of the Liberal party and have donated to both in the past year. Unlike other campaigns, I have not volunteered. This is not from any deep seated ambivalence but the amount of time and energy required to assist. Having said that, I'm not a disinterested party but I have no special insight into how things are organized, what policies were decided or how candidates chosen.

Suffice to say that Justin Trudeau's federal campaign has been textbook of how to do things right, the Rana Bokhari provincial campaign has been the opposite. A few intriguing policy ideas were ruined by some very bad ones. Poll numbers that had been good and now all over the place. A breakthrough might have been three maybe four seats. Now, it will to be retain a presence in the Legislature.

The Green leader has been confident and impressive. James Beddome has consolidated the control over the leadership and the campaign has been a good one. The biggest problem for the party is no organization on the ground to promote candidates, policies and brand. Association with the environment has been good but still leaves people wonder if they are solid in other areas.

All in all it has been an ugly election. There has been very little positive and a whole lot of negative. I voted in the advance poll. My area has been represented by the Progressive Conservative since 1981 and before re-distribution from 1969 and if you go back further, it might be all the way back to the 1950s. In short, it never changes. For the last several elections, the provincial Liberals have been third place behind the NDP who parachute someone in to run most of the time. I've not seen one Liberal sign. I've seen a rare NDP sign and I thought I saw a Green sign but that's it.

I voted Liberal. I don't think of it as wasted. My vote comes from where I stand on the political spectrum. Am I happy? Not really. This election has been painful to follow and disheartening. But I do want to support choice and having just a two party system would leave me not wanting to vote at all.

No one can really be proud about this election. No one.

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