Since the writ was issued on August 12, a full year ahead of schedule, it appears that the Progressive Conservatives (PC) under the leadership of Premier Brian Pallister are poised to win a second majority come election day on September 10. On the eve of the election, most polls show the PCs holding a double-digit lead over Wab Kinew and the New Democratic Party (NDP), thus placing them comfortably in majority territory.
True to historical form, neither the Liberals under the leadership of Dougald Lamont nor the Green Party under James Beddome succeeded in making significant inroads with the Manitoba electorate. As a result, the struggle for both parties to gain added relevance in the provincial political scene will continue for at least one more election cycle.
These projections, which are decidedly in the PC’s favor, seem to indicate that Pallister’s gambit of calling the election a year early paid off. Unlike some other Premiers throughout Canada’s history, Pallister’s decision to summon voters to the polls a year early is unlikely to spell his electoral demise.
How We Got Here:
By virtually all measures, this was an uneventful election campaign. Pallister’s decision to call the vote a year early caught the opposition parties in a state of election unreadiness and generally prevented them from building an effective anti-Pallister narrative. All three opposition parties attempted to point out the faults of Pallister and the PC’s first term during the only official debate of the campaign. While most watching agreed Pallister had a rough evening, exit polling indicated that the debate did virtually nothing to diminish Pallister’s support amongst the electorate.
The Big Issues of the Campaign:
Policy wise, the election has focused on two main issues: health care and growing the economy.
While in government, Pallister’s government cut the number of emergency facilities in Winnipeg in half and consolidated services such as mental health and surgery at select hospitals. Based on recommendations from experts, Pallister’s government made the unpopular decision to centralize emergency services in a bid to drive savings and improve services. Early polling suggested roughly 60% of Manitobans opposed the PC’s health care policies, leading to a spending injection of $2 billion over four years into health care in the Pallister government’s last budget before the writ.
Despite the new cash, the NDP centered their campaign on, as Kinew’s puts it, “fixing Pallister’s health care crisis.” A Kinew-led NDP government pledged to reopen two of the shuttered emergency departments, hire 500 new nurses, and up Pallister’s spending commitment by an additional $143 million over the next four years.
Jobs and the Economy:
With respect to the economy, both major parties developed a plan to increase the number of jobs by a significant margin and committed to doing so in four years. The NDP pledged to create 50,000 jobs through strategic investments in roads, schools, hospitals, and in infrastructure aimed at mitigating climate change. The PCs set their sights slightly lower and committed to creating 40,000 new jobs by further supporting local distilleries and brewers, developing a broadband strategy for rural and remote communities, and investing in highway repairs. Despite squabbles over how many jobs are net new, and the ultimate realization that both parties used ‘person-years’ instead of actual jobs created to reach their numeric targets, the pledges are so alike that neither party gained substantial ground.
The Finances Really Didn’t Matter
Over the course of their four-year plan, the PC’s earmarked an additional $850 million in spending. To offset the new spending, the PCs identified high-level revenue targets, such as an unidentified $100 million in program review savings that could prove difficult to achieve should they be re-elected. The NDP proposed to address the deficit through a set of tax changes including a new tax increase on the top 1% of earners in the province. The NDP platform projects these changes will deliver $34 million in revenue annually by the end of the mandate. Ultimately, both the NDP and the PCs pledged to return to the black by 2023/24 and the issue proved secondary in the 2019 campaign.
Pallister’s Gamble Set to Pay Off:
Despite his decidedly average public perception, Pallister’ victory appears to be all but certain. Wab Kinew struggled as leader and has not succeeded in mobilizing enough momentum against the PCs to win. Making matters worse for Kinew and the NDP is the disaffection many voters still feel towards the NDP after their 16 consecutive years in power. A more defined plan to reverse the Pallister government’s unpopular health care measures may have helped, but Pallister called the election early while bad memories of the closing years of the NDP era are still vivid. While a snap election can spark a backlash if it looks arrogant, Pallister gambled that the public would give him the benefit of the doubt, and the gamble appears to have paid off.
While Manitobans are unlikely to erect a statue of their current Premier over the next mandate, they are less likely to send the NDP to the provincial legislature come election day. With a PC majority probable, this election demonstrates that it is not necessary for political leaders to inspire the masses or to be wildly popular in order to get elected. Being organized, staid, and experienced in the eyes of voters – combined with a clever early election play – appears set to secure a second term by a comfortable margin.
As Mark Twain said, “politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” The people of Manitoba have not yet detected sufficient ordure for change.