Several times during the most recent provincial election campaign I said if you were to take away all of the colours, politicians and TV commercials, leaving behind only the messages, someone would have the devil’s own time figuring out which party was saying what.
Liberal, Conservative and NDP candidates were, aside from a few points, basically running the same campaign: more money for universities, more money for families and safer streets.
When you weigh the fact that voter turnout was only three quarters of one per cent higher than in 2007 — despite Elections Manitoba’s efforts — against the monochrome messages from the three leading parties, is it any surprise almost 319,000 eligible voters stayed home?
People had no excuse this time. Advance polls were practically everywhere — indeed, almost one fifth of all votes were cast at them — and Elections Manitoba extended voting hours. Sure, there is still the old standby: “I was too ill-informed to vote,” but in the information age this doesn’t hold water anymore either.
My own personal theory as to why we didn’t show up: there was no point in casting a ballot in an election without any real choice.
During the campaign, Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Hugh McFadyen’s fiscal policies, such as taking longer to balance the budget than the NDP, looked to some conservatives as the polices of a centre party, not those of the party supposed to be occupying the right wing in Manitoba. Both McFadyen and Greg Selinger’s NDP shared many other policies.
On two separate occasions when asked about NDP post-secondary policies by the Manitoban, Mavis Taillieu, the PC MLA for Morris and the Tory Advanced Education critic, claimed the NDP were aping PC policies.
“[It] sounds like they’re copying our announcement, because we had announced that we support tuition increases at the rate of inflation to protect our education system,” said Taillieu in September.
It seemed to me that leading up to this election the PCs had given up on differentiating themselves with policy and had simply put all of their eggs in one basket, hoping after 12 years of an NDP majority Manitobans would vote for them simply because they were sick of the same old thing.
Would the PCs have managed to actually gain seats this election had they stuck to their centre-right guns? Perhaps.
In a piece for the Winnipeg Free Press, “Votes were there; Tories didn’t mobilize them,” Dan Lett argues that in the riding of Seine River the PCs failed to mobilize 4,500 supporters, who in the end decided to stay home or vote for other candidates. NDP candidate Theresa Oswald won the riding by less than 1,000 votes. I’m sure Seine River was not the only riding to see this phenomenon.
Many people, much more savvy than I, have surely identified this problem and even now are crafting the policies of the next four years to address it. My guess is we are about to see a conservative revival in this province. And while my sandal-wearing socialist butt is pretty happy with the way that 2011 turned out, 2015 is sure to be an election worth watching.