09/27/2011 11:46 EDT | Updated 11/27/2011 05:12 EST

Manitoba Election: New Polls Reveal A Close Race That May Favour Greg Selinger's NDP


For the first time in a year, Greg Selinger's New Democrats were leading in the polls.

A few hours later, they were trailing the Tories again.

Dominated by health care, crime and the placement of the Bipole III hydro-line, the Manitoba election campaign has taken a back seat to the return of the NHL's Winnipeg Jets. Most of the campaign has unfolded without the release of any voting intentions polls. Before this week, the last poll out of the province was from the end of June.

That poll predicted a very close race, with Selinger's NDP and Hugh McFadyen's Progressive Conservatives tied at 44 per cent apiece. But a poll released in August by Angus-Reid suggested the NDP Leader's fortunes were on the upswing.

Heading into his first campaign as leader of the Manitoba New Democrats, who have been governing the province since 1999, Selinger's approval rating had increased to 52 per cent, after scoring 48 per cent in May and a woeful 34 per cent in February of this year.

A poll released last week by CJOB, a Manitoba radio station, indicated that 45 per cent of Manitobans did not want a change in government, while 40 per cent said the NDP's 12 years in power was enough. This, too, hinted at how Selinger's situation had improved. As recently as March, the NDP was trailing the Tories by more than 10 points.

A Viewpoints Research poll released Monday morning by CJOB pegs NDP support at 49 per cent among decided and leaning voters, well ahead of the Tories. The PCs stand at 40 per cent in the poll, but are trailing by a wide, 23-point margin in Winnipeg. The provincial capital holds the majority of Manitoba's seats, and gains in the city by the PCs are absolutely essential if McFadyen is to have any hope of becoming premier.

But while the Progressive Conservative and New Democratic caucuses might not look very different after the October 4 election, the provincial Liberals could be shut out of the Manitoba legislature. With only eight per cent support, they stand little chance of winning either of the two seats in which they are likely to be a factor. Party leader Jon Gerrard, however, might have enough local support to keep his seat.

A poll from Environics, also released Monday, suggests the two parties are neck-and-neck, with 45 per cent of Manitobans opting for the Tories and 42 per cent for the NDP. The Liberals came in at 10 per cent in the poll. However, the electoral geography of Manitoba favours the New Democrats, and a close race like this could still result in an NDP government.

Both of these polls may be accurate, as they were taken at different stages of the campaign (September 14-21 in the Viewpoints poll, September 20-26 in the Environics poll).

But Greg Selinger appears to be benefitting from a trend sweeping the country. Whether he is leading by a good margin or statistically tied, his is a good position for a government seeking its fourth consecutive term. There seems to be little appetite for change anywhere in Canada in the face of economic trouble abroad. In Winnipeg, the return of the Jets is viewed as a sign of Manitoba's renewed vitality and citizens may not see now as the time to swap a seasoned government for an opposition that has not held power in more than a decade.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.