WINNIPEG – One of Canada’s two remaining NDP governments finds itself on the ropes as it heads into an election Tuesday with polls suggesting Manitoba voters are ready to turn to the Progressive Conservatives.
Premier Greg Selinger’s New Democrats have been in power for 16 years, but have faced voter anger since they raised the provincial sales tax in 2013. That broke a previous campaign promise and sidestepped a requirement under the province’s balanced budget law to hold a referendum on tax increases.
Surveys in recent months continue to suggest the NDP are 20 points or more back of the Tories and have lost almost half of their popular support from the last election.
But some voters are not exactly enamoured with the alternatives — Tory Leader Brian Pallister or Liberal boss Rana Bokhari.
“I in no way want to see the NDP get another term … I think they’ve done terrible things for this province,” said Lindsey Anderson, a 33-year-old downtown Winnipeg resident who leans conservative. “But the Conservative party does not speak to me. Brian Pallister … it’s like ‘what planet are you from?'”
Equally ambivalent is Jason Coward, who lives in south Winnipeg.
“I’m not seeing any new ideas. I’m not seeing a lot of innovation and … there’s not a lot of substance.”
The race to Tuesday’s vote has lacked inspiration, said Royce Koop, who teaches political science at the University of Manitoba.
“We have three leaders that aren’t really inspiring enormous amounts of confidence, that aren’t stars bringing enormous amounts of charisma to the race.”
The NDP won 37 seats to 19 for the Tories and one for the Liberals in 2011. But for the first time since taking power in 1999, New Democrats have had to play defence.
Selinger, who barely survived a caucus coup last year, has made the majority of his campaign announcements in seats the NDP is trying to hold.
Pallister, backed by the strongest campaign machine since the Tories were last in power under Gary Filmon, has spent much of his time in NDP constituencies.
His personal popularity has lagged behind that of the party. The former MP has a few gaffes on his political resume, including once saying that Halloween is bad for the integrity of children. He also issued a Christmas greeting that included a reference to “infidel atheists.” He was questioned during the campaign about the extensive time he has spent vacationing in Costa Rica.
The Liberals have a rookie leader in former lawyer Rana Bokhari. The party had several setbacks on the campaign trail, including having Elections Manitoba reject some candidates for improper paperwork.
Bokhari has also appeared to struggle at times to explain details of her platform. At one point she said she wanted to “get elected first” before working out details on a promise of full-day kindergarten.
Koop predicts that public anger against Selinger is likely to outweigh antipathy toward Pallister or Bokhari, which means Alberta’s Rachel Notley will be the country’s only NDP premier.
“I think the unpopularity of Mr. Selinger is much more important to understanding the outcome than Mr. Pallister’s popularity.”