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Any Voters in Manitoba Still Awake?

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MANITOBA ELECTION
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On Tuesday, those voters still awake in Manitoba will go to the polls.

If nothing else, the final vote will put the last shovels of dirt on a campaign that wheezed its last breath some weeks ago.

The media, bolstered by a couple of late polls, have tried to magically raise the dead by invoking clichés as exhausted as the campaigns, claiming that the race is "neck-and-neck," a real "nail-biter," a "toss up."

The last poll, released five days before the election, showed the NDP leading the Progressive Conservatives by three percentage points, 46 to 43, with the Liberal vote collapsing to match its current irrelevance at seven per cent. A poll a week earlier also put the NDP at 41 per cent, with the Tories at 32, with a bunch of people still undecided.

But the surface results of province wide polls are of little value since the only battleground over the past few decades has been in the City of Winnipeg, which holds 31 of the province's 57 seats. In Winnipeg both polls give the NDP a huge percentage edge, 46 to 25 and 53 to 35. Not exactly "neck-and-neck."

The importance of the city vote became apparent early on when PC Leader Hugh McFadyen made the promise to pave all the back lanes in Winnipeg. It didn't come from a deep concern for the travails of gravel-challenged homeowners. It was more a concern for the votes in a couple of key, swing ridings where alleyways suffer from a lack of asphalt.

It wasn't the only oddity of the Conservative campaign. After the NDP said it would balance the provincial budget by 2014, the Tories promised they would do it by 2018. Huh? No typo, there. They said that was just being realistic, if not traditionally Conservative.

To underscore the latter, McFadyen went on to promise even more spending than the NDP. The differences in the promises became so minuscule the leaders should have had jerseys with their names on the back so voters could tell them apart.

The most apparent variances were carried in the tsunami of negative ads each of the main parties unleashed.

The NDP recycled its endless loop about the massive Conservative cuts in the '90s that were carried out by former Premier Gary Filmon, whose senior advisor was Hugh McFadyen. These ads ran so often voters could be forgiven when on Election Day they are surprised to discover Gary Filmon's name isn't actually on the ballot.

Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen had hoped his former boss was gone and forgotten. Before the campaign had officially begun, McFadyen had tossed Filmon overboard like an old anchor that was holding back the HMS Hughie. He said the cuts in the '90s went too far and were a "mistake," so let's move on, nothing to see here, folks.

Rather than envision cuts, McFadyen joined with NDP Leader Greg Selinger, promising to put more and more police officers on the streets of what is already one of the most heavily-policed cities in Canada per capita. Aside from giving tourism industry officials the vapours, McFadyen's constant depiction of Winnipeg as the "Violent Crime Capital of Canada" seemed to show just how well hiring more and more police officers has worked so far.

They matched each other nurse for nurse and promised more and more and even more doctors. About the only doctor with fading career prospects turned out to be Liberal Leader Dr. Jon Gerrard. Try as he might, he was pretty much the guy sitting against the wall at the big dance. It went from bad to embarrassing when two prominent former Liberal MPs endorsed an NDP candidate a few days before balloting.

Overall, that was about it for the campaign, boiled down as it was to the NDP warning that a vote for McFadyen was "too risky" and the Tory lament that Selinger didn't fulfill promises made by former Premier Gary Doer. Too risky! Less fulfilling! Too risky! Less fulfilling! Too risky! Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

The media couldn't even keep its eyes open, only occasionally looking below the surface of the promises and policies. Then again, the resurrected NHL Winnipeg Jets were beginning their pre-season games and the Bombers were in first place. The media can only do so much.

About the only spark in the campaign was that provided by third parties which launched their own campaigns calling on the parties to take action on a list of issues. And they had some success. Cancer patients were promised free drugs, homeowners a reduction in education tax and caps on early years' school class sizes.

It has, however, always been in the NDP interests to keep things safe and cautious, play some pan pipes and hope everyone goes to sleep. That has been typical for three winning elections now, where the priority has always been to avoid the bad headline at all costs.

The Tories, on the other hand, have for three losing elections made bold promises from bringing the Jets back to town (missed it by that much) to creating schools of excellence in Manitoba.

This time their only education promise that came close was the commitment to create a Centre of Excellence -- for police dogs.

George Stephenson, an award-winning journalist, is a former Manitoban newspaper editor, radio producer and columnist 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. Email them at themediabank@shaw.ca

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