Saturday, January 10, 2015

The NDP leadership race is underway in Manitoba

CBC Manitoba has an infographic with photos of Manitoba MLAs arranged by their choice for leader. The count is 6 for Ashton, 7 for Oswald, 13 for Selinger with 5 undecided and 2 neutral.

Although caucus support likely will not perfectly reflect the distribution of votes at the convention come March 8, the distribution of support implies a competitive race. Based on the dynamics of the convention that selected Selinger, one would expect that the second choice of Oswald supporters would be Selinger and vice-versa but with the bitterness of the split between Selinger and Oswald it is unclear how this might play out. Given that he is already leader and premier Selinger's position looks weak. If this were 2009 with the same candidates one might expect the second choice of Oswald supporters to be Selinger and vice-versa, although with just three candidates a first ballot victory is a distinct possibility. Regardless, the party will likely emerge divided (at least behind the scenes).

While the NDP has a longer-term structural advantage in Manitoba politics conferred by the Progressive Conservative Party's failure to establish itself as a significant political force in the City of Winnipeg, the short run appears likely to bring some sort of defeat in the next election. While the Liberals don't seem set to repeat the experience 1988 performance of Sharon Carstairs (see details on that on pages 20 to 24 of this paper I wrote in 2008 on the Manitoba Liberals), they could easily draw enough disillusioned NDP votes to make a decisive difference. The PCs are currently running just four points ahead of their 2011 election performance. It is significant bleeding to the Liberals and Greens that is mainly responsible for the NDP's position in the polls. Will it continue? The NDP will certainly make an effort through attacks on the PCs to prompt tactical voting on the part of some Greens and Liberals to revive their fortunes.

Free Press columnist Dan Lett drew a comparison to 1988 in a recent column. However, the political context was quite different. Briefly stated, in 1988 an NDP government at the depths of the mid-term blues was forced into an early election that produced for them a disastrous outcome despite a leadership change as the campaign got underway. This description does not apply now.

The 2015 convention will produce a winner who, having achieved the status of victor, will benefit at least for a brief honeymoon period. Even if it it is the politically-damaged Selinger there remains a year to prepare for the April 2016 campaign. Politics in Manitoba is generally pragmatic as the continued presence of the anti-Selinger dissidents within the party caucus attests. While I would expect a PC victory in 2016 the ongoing strength and advantages of the Manitoba NDP render that outcome at least somewhat uncertain.