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Manitoba Election: Not So Close After All, Eh?

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MANITOBA PREMIER GREG SELINGER
AP

So much for the closest Manitoba election in decades.

At least that was the reporting of polls heading into the provincial vote on Tuesday, Oct. 4. Close, sure; like Vancouver is close to Winnipeg, like reporters are close to understanding polls.

For a record-setting fourth election in a row, the NDP rolled over the Progressive Conservatives. Left in NDP Leader Greg Selinger's dust were PC Leader Hugh McFadyen, the Liberals and the myth-like reputation of former Premier Gary Doer.

Selinger managed as well as his old boss ever did.

When Doer left Manitoba to become Canada's ambassador to the U.S., some of the big foreheads predicted major problems for the NDP since Doer was supposedly far more popular than the party.

As it turned out, the party continued long after the guest of honour left.

The same can't be said for McFadyen, who announced he would quit his party in the wake of his loss. He ran an odd campaign after an apparent conversion on the road to Damascus. For years his clarion call had been against such demons as deficits, debts and government spending.

Once the election began he promised more spending than the NDP and that he wouldn't bring in a balanced budget until 2018, four years later than the NDP. It didn't quite catch the imagination of his supporters. One of the more prominent Manitoba right wing blogs dubbed him NDP 2.0.

He did, however, manage to increase the party's popular vote, raising it from 38 per cent in 2007 to almost 45 per cent this time. That was pretty much as the polls predicted. In other provinces that would be enough reason for political parties to pump some coins into the juke box and roll out a few kegs, but this is Manitoba.

"We obviously didn't get those votes where we needed them," McFadyen said in his concession speech.

Obviously.

There is a great political divide in the province between the urban ridings and those that embrace more fields of wheat and corn than people. In almost all the rural areas the Conservatives could run a bale of hay and still win. Adding votes in those ridings is about as helpful to the party as urbanization.

McFadyen failed to make much of a dent in the NDP's Fortress Winnipeg which holds more than half of the province's total ridings, despite promising to hire more cops and pave all the alleys in the city. If nothing else, the results showed that a vote in Manitoba is worth more than 40 metres of asphalt.

Overall, the Conservative campaign had as much chance of catching fire as a soggy log. It was difficult to see any strategy beyond talking about how every Manitoban was in danger of being murdered in their beds. Selinger dubbed McFadyen the Grim Reaper.

Between the two main parties was the small campaign of the poor old Liberals and their leader Jon Gerrard who had the grimmest results of all. He was left with his single seat and a decline in the popular vote to seven per cent from 12 per cent.

The NDP ran its typical, cautious, centre of the road campaign; a somnambulant symphony, punctuated by attack ads dragging up McFadyen's administrative role in draconian government cuts taken more than a decade ago.

Whether they worked or not, who knows? What isn't in doubt is that the whole campaign was a wheezer that did little to keep the public awake. It showed up in the voter turnout, which, at around 55 per cent, was one of the lowest in the province's history.

George Stephenson, an award-winning journalist, is a former Manitoban newspaper editor and radio producer having worked at the Winnipeg Sun and CBC. He is currently a publications editor and web master for a Manitoba union.

Shirley Muir has been a print editor and broadcast producer working for The Winnipeg Sun, CBC and WTN, racking up several awards. She was President of the Canadian Association of Journalists in the 1990s. She is now president of TheMediaBank.ca, a public affairs firm headquartered in Manitoba.

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