Two years ahead of the next Manitoba provincial election, Brian Pallister’s PC government has a healthy lead in the polls over both the provincial NDP and Liberal parties.
Pallister’s large lead comes from two sources — rural constituencies and a lack of serious competition in Winnipeg. Despite coming off a devastating tour in government under NDP’S Greg Selinger, the NDP still remains competitive in Winnipeg. The Liberals are polling higher than they are likely to get in the next election, as the party seeks to drain off votes from the NDP rather than cultivate the fiscal conservative vote.
Dougald Lamont, the recently minted Liberal Party leader, won the St. Boniface constituency — the seat was held for two decades by former NDP Premier Greg Selinger. This brought the Liberal’s seat count in the legislature to four — just enough for party status. Historically, for well over a half a century with one exception — when Sharon Carstairs brought up the Liberals to opposition status in 1988 — Manitoba’s Liberal party have their best results in polls ahead of provincial elections. Since 1988, they have never come close to winning government. Lamont is no Sharon Carstairs: she campaigned against the PCS as well as the NDP, understanding that taxpayers prefer having more money in their pockets instead of in the hands of a spendthrift provincial government.
In July, Lamont staked out his perspective on spending and taxation. Shockingly, he suggested that a Liberal provincial government would not be averse to even higher taxes and more provincial deficits. Basically, Lamont is chasing the NDP vote, ignoring fiscal conservatives — voters that prefer lower taxes and an end to provincial deficits.
With the NDP struggling to hold on to the union and Indigenous vote, Lamont’s leftward drift left leaves the path open for another comfortable win for Pallister’s PCS in 2020. With the campaign field as it is now, any voter who would appreciate a government that “can count,” one that at least talks about cutting the string of government deficits that began with the NDP, will vote PC. Unfortunately, a Pallister government, re-elected in 2020, would be a disaster for sane fiscally-conservative voters. It would pave the way for a return of the NDP in 2024, and that would mean that an opportunity to transform and right the good ship Manitoba would have been lost.
Pallister, an ineffective micro-manager, is an oldstyle my-way-or-the-highway conservative. He thinks Manitoba’s economic woes can be solved by gradual nickel-and-dime style austerity and minor salary restraint. He leaves the massive bureaucracy mostly at peace while chopping productivity-enhancing road and infrastructure projects. Desperately needed big picture reform is not happening — so the low-performing, expensive monopoly systems in health care, education, welfare and justice creak along undisturbed.
With the NDP heading towards the perilous identity politics swamp, and the provincial Liberals concentrating on the wrong target, what sensible fiscally conservative folks (who are social liberals) need is a new party. A party that is not afraid to up the ante — embracing real public sector reform, creating excellent high performing public services, embracing fiscal responsibility to tackle the NDP’S deficit and debt mess, and reducing taxes to create a stronger, more vibrant and competitive private sector.