Sunday, May 27, 2007

Manitoba election - long term implications

The election produced (as expected by the end of the campaign) another majority for the NDP. It was nonetheless a remarkable outcome. Not only was it an unprecedented third majority for Gary Doer and the NDP, it was only the second time in modern Manitoba political history that it had happened, the other being Duff Roblin's three majorities of 1959, 1962 and 1966.

The modern era of Manitoba politics dates from 1958 when the Liberal-Progressive coalition that had ruled in one form or another since 1922 was defeated by Duff Roblin. The Roblin Progressive Conservatives formed a minority government he transformed into a majority a year later. The PCs initiated a new party system in Manitoba in which the Progressive Conservatives were dominant while the opposition was fairly evenly split between the Liberals and the CCF-NDP - it continued for the next decade. Following the NDP's first victory in 1969 a new party system was initiated that could best be described as a competitive two party system with the NDP and the PCs alternating in government, the governing party generally holding only a small majority of seats in the Manitoba legislature, with the Liberals as a third party trailing distantly behind the other two in votes and seats. The Carstairs Liberal uprising, which emerged suddenly in 1988 and had all but disappeared by 1995, caused this system to waver temporarily, but the return of the NDP to power in 1999 seemed firmly to re-establish the post-1969 party system.

However, one other unprecedented aspect of the 2007 election is that it witnessed not just the third majority for the NDP, but the second time in a row that their majority of seats had increased. And for the second election in a row NDP support has become relatively more concentrated in the City of Winnipeg. The NDP had a higher percentage of votes overall in 2003 but they increased their share of the vote in the City of Winnipeg in 2007 (from 52 to 53%) and this gave them two additional seats there (and almost a third). The only constituency they lost was in Brandon.

These numbers can be seen in Winnipeg's electoral map, which is now completely NDP orange in the city except for three ridings in the southwest corner (and one in the northeast). Combined with the absolute NDP dominance in the northern ridings, where NDP strength has grown steadily stronger over time, the NDP's control of much of the city suggests we may be seeing a new party system emerge. This analysis is still speculative, but it is possible that this new party system will be one where there is a single party (the NDP) that would dominate the political scene most of the time, while the opposition PCs would only able to take power occasionally, and subsequently would not able to hang on to the reigns of power for longer than a term or perhaps two.

We do have other party systems in Canada where one party has been generally stronger than the others for a prolonged period - in Alberta since 1971 the Conservatives have been completely dominant federally and provincially, while in Ontario the Liberal Party has tended to dominate the federal scene since 1963, and the CCF-NDP has held power for 47 of the past 63 years in Saskatchewan.

The NDP in Manitoba has been in office more often than not since 1969 but generally by a small margin until 2003. This does look very much like a new party system in Manitoba - one where the NDP completely controls such a large share of the seats in Winnipeg and the North that it becomes extremely difficult for the Conservatives to find a way to win office. In a year where it seems certain the NDP will lose office in Saskatchewan it appears the centre of electoral gravity for the party is going to edge a little to the east.

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