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Manitoba’s election: meet the new boss

The Conservatives couldn’t make much headway against NDP leader Greg Selinger


 

Hugh McFadyen retired as Manitoba Conservative leader last night shortly after the results of the province’s election came in. If Twitter is any indication, this decision was met with some surprise and dismay, even among uncommitted voters. Apparently an older, slower pace of political perception, a pace at which a two-time loser is considered to still be abundant with promise, prevails in Manitoba.

I’m not being sarcastic. Far from it: I laugh right along with Colleague Wells when I see Canadian political parties treat leaders as cheap interchangeable parts and are surprised at the outcome that usually transpires. But it is hard for me to question McFadyen’s judgment in quitting when I look at the quality of his campaigns, and consider that he has now been beaten by two different New Democrats.

In retrospect, he may be considered to have done well against Gary Doer, who (along with Danny Williams) probably provides the most substantial proof in recent Canadian politics that a premier can leave office with his personality cult not only intact but stronger than ever. But McFadyen couldn’t make much headway against Greg Selinger—who is not exactly Elvis charisma-wise—despite unrehabilitated Manitoba fiscal arrangements and the province’s wheel-spinning “have-not” status. I can’t help chalking this up to ineptitude when I see items like this fragment from an ad in Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press:

McFadyen campaign ad

Len Gibbons could tell you that it’s already too late by the time you’re running advertisements like this. McFadyen tried to outbid the NDP on every policy front, and pushed the proposed date of a return to surplus back to 2018, a number which for economic-forecasting purposes might as well start with a “3”. This led to a campaign in which even observers strictly forbidden from free-range editorializing had to chuckle at the similarity between the cascade-o’-goodies platforms. Selinger and McFadyen, improvising on the fly, fought insanely casuistic battles over exactly how many new nurses and cops to hire and which criminals should wear ankle bracelets.

So why wouldn’t Manitobans have voted NDP? Hell, when they say they won’t sell Manitoba Hydro, you know they mean it. If it comes down to a choice between privatizing utilities and mortgaging the organs of Wawanesa schoolchildren to the Sultan of Brunei, we all know which one they’ll choose. Little Tyler better not get too attached to that spleen.

McFadyen and his campaign chairman Don Plett, in appearing at their headquarters to concede, griped about the justice of an electoral system that saw the NDP edge the Conservatives in vote share by just 46% to 44% but take almost twice the seats. Plett actually said “In any election, if you win 44% [of the vote], you should be in government.” Even, one is tempted to ask, if the other guy ends up with 46%?

It happens quite a lot in Canadian provincial politics that an outright popular-vote winner remains in Opposition. Anomalies of this sort can happen because of inappropriately high variations in individual voting power between ridings, or because the offended party has achieved a less efficient vote and run up high electoral majorities in fewer ridings. McFadyen’s problem was the latter. Manitoba’s electoral-boundaries commission of 2008 did an amazing job of keeping most of the ridings the same size [PDF]: two large northern ones (Flin Flon and Kewatinook) have estimated populations between 15,000 and 16,000, and the rest all lie within a very tight range between 18,945 (Thompson) and 21,245 (Riding Mountain). It would be hard to find a province that honoured the spirit of one-man-one-vote more punctiliously. (Certainly these arrangements look like a miracle of integrity if you’re living in Alberta [PDF], where voters in Edson and Hinton can have 52% more influence than fellow-citizens in Spruce Grove and St. Albert and nobody bats an eye or shoots anybody.)

So McFadyen just had an inefficient vote that was concentrated in the ag belt, as a quick check confirms. His candidates piled up 74% of the vote in Morris and 86% in Morden-Winkler, while prospective stars like ex-Winnipeg councilor Gord Steeves and speedskater Susan Auch fell short against NDP incumbents. McFadyen’s high-profile challengers did more or less the same thing last time; it is getting hard to see where the blame could lie, if not at the threshold of the leader’s office.

But Selinger should note that when vote shares and seats get too far out of whack, it’s a sign of dangerous instability. The premier cannot afford to have large parts of his province become no-go areas for him. Regions whose voting power is ignored precisely because of their intense unanimity can create an awful lot of drama—can literally “make a scene”, like an irascible girlfriend—between elections. Whoever succeeds McFadyen will start with that 44% of the vote locked up, and will find it easier to go up than down.


 

Manitoba’s election: meet the new boss

  1. But Selinger should note that when vote shares and seats get too far out of whack, it’s a sign of dangerous instability. The premier cannot afford to have large parts of his province become no-go areas for him. Regions whose voting power is ignored precisely because of their intense unanimity can create an awful lot of drama—can literally “make a scene”, like an irascible girlfriend—between elections. Whoever succeeds McFadyen will start with that 44% of the vote locked up, and will find it easier to go up than down.

    That’s just the nature of Manitoba politics for the last 40 or so years and it isn’t unique to the NDP.  There are 15 or so ridings in inner city Winnipeg and the North that the Tories will never compete in either so I don’t see how last night’s results pose any sort of additional danger that we didn’t know about the night before.

  2. First past post system practiced in Anglo countries is best political system because it keeps out the extremists – we’ve never had a leader slaughter millions like most other countries have.

    Sometimes there are results where losers can quibble with seat distribution but are there examples where a political party won and public was outraged by result? Regardless of percentages and seats,  parties win elections because public voted for them. 

    ” If Twitter is any indication, this decision was met with some surprise and dismay, even among uncommitted voters.”

    Wall St Journal ~ Decoding Our Chatter:

     ….. Twitter, the service that allows users to send text updates of up to 140 characters out to the public, publishes more than 200 million messages, or tweets, a day. Compared with information from cellphone records and social-media sites, Twitter texts are as timely as a pulse beat and, taken together, automatically compile the raw material of social history.

    As Twitter’s message traffic has grown explosively, so has the scientific appetite for the insights the data can yield. Dozens of new scholarly studies over the past 18 months by computer-network analysts and sociologists have plumbed the public torrents of data made available by Twitter through special links with the company’s computer servers. This research has harnessed the service to monitor political activity and employee morale, track outbreaks of flu and food poisoning, map fluctuations in moods around the world, predict box-office receipts for new movies, and get a jump on changes in the stock market.

    • “we’ve never had a leader slaughter millions like most other countries have.”

      There are about 196 countries in the world.  Please provide the list of the 99 leaders who have slaughtered millions (the minimum number that would give your ridiculous claim veracity – and remember they must come from 99 different countries).

  3. Plett actually said “In any election, if you win 44% [of the vote], you should be in government.”

    Perhaps Plett is basing his conclusion on Dear Leader Harper’s achievements.  I would suggest he devote some of his future efforts to building up the Manitoba Liberals and developing the Bloc St. Boniface. 

  4. Campaign manager Don Plett – that’s Senator Don Plett.  Good to see his new duties not interferring with his old ones.

  5. Shouldn’t the left wing lunatics be whining about how unfair the first past the post system is…oh wait…never mind.

    • I remember the lefties marching in the streets in protest when Glen Clark won that BC election in the 90s despite losing the popular vote.

      Oh, sorry, they didn’t march in the streets.  They didn’t complain at all.

  6. Yes, and the right was up in arms when Harper secured a lower proportion of the popular vote and got a majority.  The blood on the streets flowed for days….

    • Harper got a plurality of the popular vote.  Glen Clark didn’t.  Equivalency FAIL.

  7. Shouldn’t someone be reporting on all the national columnists who were predicting just a few months ago that we’d soon be having Conservative or Conservative-associated governments in BC, Manitoba, and Ontario?

    • Anybody who predicts that outcome in BC, for starters, is an idiot.   The BC Liberals are in an extremely tough spot, tarnished by the HST and residual dislike of Gordon Campbell (shades of the lingering Mulroney after-effect on Kim Campbell), plus they stand to get their lunch eaten on the right by the BC Conservative Party.

      • B.C. Conservative eating anyone’s lunch?  I don’t think so, they’ve let the crazy aunts in. 

  8. The NDP slogan is a better Manitoba for everyone….even the no-go area.  

  9. Colby is always an observant guy but there are a few other things worth pointing out. Notably
     
    (1) The Jets! That’s the moment the polls turned, not unlike how Paul Martin’s polls turned after the income fund thing and Jane Creba shooting over Christmas 05-06. It’s pretty hard to persuade voters things are going wrong when a city’s wildest fantasy comes true. McFadyen campaigned on that wildest fantasy in 2007 and was mocked, then let Selinger steal the glory this time..
     
    (2) Manitoba PC’s have had two straight failed leaders now from the waspy Winnipeg elite, both with John Tory tendencies: decent, intelligent men with a sense of public service who seem to have a hard time instinctively connecting with, or finding wedge issues to excite, suburban and non-aboriginal ethnic Winnipeggers. I cannot wrap my head around how Fort Garry and St James are solid NDP territory these days. These people vote for Harper federally now – the whole city is blue except for the core and north end. The PCs could be well advised to choose a firebrand or ideologue from more humble origins next time, be it a Transcona Ukrainian or a religious Mennonite. 
     
    (3) I don’t understand why McFadyen couldn’t be badass about the privatization thing, and why he let the NDP attack ads be so effective. You’d think he had been involved in something toxic like two tier health care or Walkerton. Does anyone seriously advocate that privatizing MTS has been anything but a great success? Does the NDP really think there should be a state phone company? Do voters lament the days of state owned phone companies (and for that matter, how much would the suburbanites of Fort Garry even care if MB hydro was sold)? Why on earth did McFadyen distance himself from a 90s glory days of conservatism policy he should be proud of?

  10.   Politicians need to have the intestinal fortitude to do what they were elected to do. Marshall Law needs to declared, Canada needs to be locked down, nobody gets in or nobody gets out, until the corruption in Canada is cleaned up and cleaned out.  For the sake of the good hard working people of Canada, corruption needs to be gone !

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