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Election no surprise
Apr 27, 2007

“Will Premier Doer call an election this Friday?”

“Of course,” was the reply from NDP MLA (Fort Rouge) Tim Sale, who is now the spokesman for the NDP election campaign.

Of course, Sale had nothing to lose —he had already announced he would not be running in the election — when he told me this on the Tuesday prior to Friday’s election call, during one of those seemingly endless rounds of pre-election goodies announcements.

Realizing his near-spontaneous response may have been too hasty and perhaps believing he overstepped his authority, Sale quickly added it was up to the premier to decide when the conditions were right to announce a provincial election. 

Well, the conditions were apparently  right on Friday so the premier told Manitobans they would be going to the polls on May 22. 

Sale didn’t have to worry about jumping the gun since the election call on Friday was far from a surprise. It was heavily anticipated that Premier Doer would be travelling that day to Government House for an election writ from the lieutenant governor. His announcement on Friday merely confirmed what had already been widely accepted as fact.

Of course, the premier had to pepper his announcement with a perception of suspense, saying he had wondered about the propriety of calling an election when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in town to announce federal funding for 

the $265-million Canadian Museum of 

Human Rights at The Forks. In fact, Doer said he waited until the prime minister was on an airplane heading back to Ottawa  before making the election call.

Huh?

It can be presumed that the premier had made up his mind days in advance to call an election for a specific date whether the prime minister was in town or not. Spring is always a better time for an election rather than the vacation-plagued days of summer.

And a personal-approval rating of 71 per cent led Doer to believe there was no better time than Friday to announce an election and gain his party’s third straight majority government — a feat only achieved by former Premier Duff Roblin and the Tories from 1959 to 1966. Doer knows that the passage of time can be a politician’s worst enemy — voters are fickle and even the most minor faux pas can quickly turn them against a party or individual seeking public office.

Besides, Doer used the ceremony to also announce that the province was upping its contribution to the museum to $40 million — millions in new funding announcements are a sure sign that an election is in the wind. The premier undoubtedly sensed the feel-good aspect of the museum announcement was an appropriate time for an election call.

He also had to anticipate the prime minister’s potential election call. The PM has been involved in a flurry of his own money announcements as a prelude to calling a federal general election. Doer knows election campaigns are better fought when the focus is on the  local scene rather than having voters distracted by the prospect of a federal election.

Doer also realized as of Friday that he was in a better position to fight an election contest than the other two provincial party leaders. 

Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen remains an unknown quantity to most Manitobans since as he is a rookie politician on the provincial scene. He has his five-Rs  — re-attracting young people, refreshing the environment, restoring front-line services, reclaiming the streets and renewing communities — but Doer has upped the ante with two more points, an increase from his traditional five-point past election campaigns. Doer’s seven-point campaign is to keep health care a priority, clean up the environment, keep young people in the province, improve safety, build better roads and infrastructure, keep government affordable and retain Manitoba Hydro as a public utility.

Both McFadyen and Doer know what broad-based issues hit home with voters, but what matters most is how they get their

respective messages across. Whomever wins the latter contest will emerge the winner on May 22.

McFadyen may have struck the first resonating note with voters with his proposal to cut the PST  to six per cent, an obvious theft from the federal Tories who promised during the last federal election to cut the GST and rode that promise to a minority government victory. Slashing a consumption tax as opposed to an income tax or property tax is not good economics, according to economists, but it is good politics. 

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard has had years to gain his share of favourable votes, but has instead confused voters with the presentation of his message rather than convincing them to vote for him. 

He does make a lot of sense when he leaves the impression that “It’s the economy, stupid!” For example, his first announcement was that the Liberals under his leadership would evolve the economy by getting Manitoba off the federal dole. His party would then make Manitoba a “have” province by investing in research and innovation, removing the payroll tax and restoring public confidence after the Crocus Fund debacle. 

Again these are a series of broad-based issues like the other leaders’ proposals, though he adds “intelligence” into the mix through research and innovation. Among the three leaders, Gerrard is perceived as the most intelligent but finishes last inpolitical savvy. 

On the other hand, Doer is the consummate politician — he exudes confidence. He can soothe the most hostile of audiences with his warm smile, his charisma and his oh-so smooth public speaking style. I’ve talked to people before a public event who have claimed to dislike Doer, but by the end of a speech insisted that some of what the premier had said made absolute sense, though, upon questioning, the details of what had made sense escaped them.

Doer is the party and it is the wise NDP candidate who rides his coattails into office and ignores the rather silly party campaign slogan, “Forward, not back.” It’s interesting to note that the top of election displays outlining NDP priorities uses the more telling phrase, “Forward with Gary Doer.”

What Sale could not predict, nor can anyone else for that matter, is which issue will eventually decide the election — a single issue can quickly emerge and dictate the fortunes of a political party.