Manitoba (Canada) 2011

Provincial elections were held in Manitoba (Canada) on October 4, 2011. All 57 members of Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly were up for reelection. Manitoba’s Premier since 2009 is Greg Selinger of the NDP, who replaced NDP Premier Gary Doer, first elected in 1999, who resigned in 2009 to serve as Canada’s ambassador to the United States. Selinger’s NDP was seeking an unprecedented fourth term government, after winning three successive majority governments in 1999, 2003 and 2007.

Partisan politics were introduced in Manitoba by 1880, with the development of the Liberals around Thomas Greenway and then the Conservatives under Rodmond Roblin. Greenway and later Manitoba Liberals in the early twentieth century often butted heads with the federal Liberals, most significantly over the issue of separate French-Catholic schools for Manitoba’s Francophone Métis population. The Manitoba Schools Question, because of its interconnection with the issue of linguistic rights, became a national issue and led to the demise of the MacDonald Conservative coalition in 1896 and the slow emergence of the Liberal Party as a real alternative. While the federal Liberals increasingly became the party of Canadian Francophones, Greenway’s Liberals and later Liberal governments in the early twentieth century frustrated their federal counterparts attempt by their continued opposition to any separate school for Manitoba’s French-speaking minority. Greenway was defeated by the Tories in 1899, with Rodmond Roblin taking power in 1900. A scandal led to Roblin’s defeat in 1915 by a Liberal Party which had, to some extent, co-opted a good part of the nascent progressive movement’s agenda: temperance, social reform, early welfare state measures and rural credit. The progressivism of Norris’ government was not enough, however, to save the provincial Liberals from being swept over by the progressive tide by 1922 when the United Farmers/Progressives swept to power with John Bracken, a non-partisan consensus politician. The Manitoban variety of progressivism was oriented towards integrating the movement within the existing political system or even act as a vehicle to eventually take control of an existing party like the Liberals – this variety contrasted with Alberta’s radical kind of progressivism which rejected party-parliament politics and favoured laying down the grassroots of a corporatist non-partisan political system. It was thus natural that Manitoba’s progressive government would go on to become a small-c conservative government, with the Liberals merging with the provincial Progressives in 1932 and opening the doors to a grand coalition with the Tories, CCF and SoCred in 1940 (the CCF left in 1940, the Tories in 1950). Bracken went on to become leader of the federal Conservatives in 1943- which is why they became known as the Progressive Conservatives. The increasingly conservative Liberals were defeated in 1958 by the Red Tory Duff Roblin who went on to lead the PCs to four successive governments. Slowly, the Liberals were reduced to a rather right-wing rump, and definitely faded after a rural right-winger took over the Liberals ahead of the 1969 election. Similarly, the Red Tory Roblin was replaced by the rural conservative Weir as Premier in 1967. It was a perfect storm for the NDP, which in contrast abandoned its old-style socialist-labour leadership with the election of the moderate, centrist Ed Schreyer. Schreyer’s NDP won the 1969 election, forming the first NDP government in the province.

Since 1969, Manitoban politics have become more or less a two-party competition between the social democratic NDP and the Conservatives (PCs). The Liberals were shut out in 1981, and they only briefly challenged the PC-NDP polarization in 1988, when the Liberals placed second on the back of the collapse of the incumbent NDP government. But that was just an anomaly, as the NDP reemerged as the opposition to the PCs in the 1990s. Manitoba’s successive NDP governments (1969-1973, 1981-1986, 1999-) have been marked by their moderation and fiscal prudence – especially under Gary Doer. Doer’s governments balanced the budget and kept the budget balanced, while increasing or maintaing social spending and even cutting taxes at times. In style of governance, the NDP in Manitoba like that in neighboring Saskatchewan is very much centrist. In contrast, the last PC government under Gary Filmon was rather right-wing in its agenda: privatizations, spending cuts, balanced budget and tax cuts.

Gary Doer was a charismatic, popular moderate politician with support across partisan lines. After his retirement from provincial politics in 2009 to serve as ambassador, it looked as if his successor, Finance Minister Greg Selinger wouldn’t be able to hold his predecessor’s widespread popularity. A PC victory in Manitoba after being shut out of government provincially since 1999 was looking quite likely until this summer, with the PCs leading the NDP by fair margins throughout most of 2011. But it seems like the voters quickly forgot their original voter fatigue with the long-standing NDP government and decided to stick with the NDP. A few things helped: the economy is in decent shape, the government is competent and popular with voters and the popular mood shot up massively with the arrival of a NHL hockey team in Winnipeg this year: the Winnipeg Jets. Don’t underestimate the political effects on the government of the new NHL team. Major criminality in Winnipeg did not hurt the NDP much either, but on crime, both NDP and PCs share a broadly similar platform. The NDP had a narrow 2-3% lead in the final polls, making this the closest election in Manitoba since 1999.

NDP 46% (-2%) winning 37 seats (+1)
PC 43.86% (+5.97%) winning 19 seats (nc)
Liberal 7.53% (-4.86%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Green 2.52% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)

After making history in 2007 for being the first provincial NDP government to be reelected to a third term, the Manitoba NDP made history again by winning an unprecedented fourth term, an honour which voters have not bestowed on any government since Roblin’s Tories in 1966.

The popular vote indicates a much closer contest than the the seat numbers indicate: the NDP won the popular vote by only 2% and apparently at some points during the night it seemed as if the NDP would lose the popular vote narrowly while holding a crushing majority! Despite the PCs gaining over 6% support compared to 2007, it failed to win even one extra seat to improve upon its terrible 2007 result. The main problem for the PCs is that their vote is split extremely inefficiently. They managed to win absolutely mind-boggling huge margins in rural conservative southern Manitoba with results well above 60% in most cases and even reaching 85% in Mennonite outposts such as Morden-Winkler or Steinbach. Of their 19 seats, the Tories won 11 of those – 58% – with over 60% of the vote and only two with a margin of less than 10%. Most of the upswing in PC support came from rural Manitoba, where the only effect was making already safe seats into impenetrable fortresses. But even that rural upswing wasn’t good enough for the PCs to gain some vulnerably rural NDP seats such as Swan Lake, Interlake, Dauphin or Gimli. Such huge margins are nice, but you don’t win an election like that – especially in Manitoba. A majority of the province’s population (55%) lives in the capital and dominant city, Winnipeg, which holds most of the 57 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Therefore, Winnipeg is key to any party seeking to win government. Therefore, if the PCs want to form government, they need to breakthrough in Winnipeg, and their failure to do so this year sealed their fate. The PC held all of their four seats in Winnipeg, but failed to even gain very vulnerable NDP seats with weak or retiring incumbents. The NDP held on by tiny margins in Kirkfield Park and St. Norbert and by larger margins in Seine River and Southdale. In ridings such as Assiniboia where the PCs had hoped to defeat some NDP incumbents in ridings which are traditionally right-leaning, they were unable to even come close.

The Liberals won two seats in 2007, Inkster (now redistributed into Tyndall Park) and River Heights. Inkster’s Liberal MLA, Kevin Lamoureux was elected to the House of Commons in 2010 and reelected in May. His seat, held more because of his popularity than any Liberal-voting demographic, was left vacant. The Liberal leader, Jon Gerrard, was facing a tough race in his own seat of River Heights, an affluent riding targeted by the PCs. In the end, in another case of terrible PC results in Winnipeg, he won 46-33. The NDP won Tyndall Park by a margin of roughly 10% over the Liberals. The NDP won the rest of northern Winnipeg besides the PC seat of River East by huge margins, as was to be expected: north Winnipeg was the original stronghold of Canadian socialism, and remains to this day a poor working-class area though one which is nowadays far more ethnically diverse with Canada’s largest Filipino population. In downtown Wolseley, Green leader James Beddome placed a distant second behind the NDP with 19.7% in a riding which includes the University of Winnipeg. Selinger was reelected in Francophone St. Boniface with 69%.

Hugh McFayden, the hapless PC leader resigned after the results. Gerrard hinted that he would resign as Liberal leader, but hang on as MLA. If the PCs want to the win the next election in 2015, they will need to break through in Winnipeg and in doing dig its way out of inefficient vote splits.

Ontario will be voting tomorrow. This is set to be the closest and perhaps most exciting race in well over a decade, but most final polls have shown a mini-surge in Liberal support to the point where the incumbent Liberal government might very well hold a reduced majority government. Quite a reversal from June, when the Liberals were fighting to even stay second! As previously mentioned, I will not be covering the Ontarian election live but I’ll have the results by Friday or Saturday.

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Posted on October 5, 2011, in Canada, Manitoba, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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