Tuesday, May 8, 2007

And the race is on...

Lots of posting today!

Tories fail to run full slate of candidates

There are sure to be some red faces in the Tory backrooms today. Nominations have closed and, after falling short in Flin Flon, the party was unable to field a full slate of candidates in the election.

Rightly or wrongly, the ability to run a full slate of candidates is almost always taken as a key indicator of whether a party is organized and serious about winning or whether it's a fringe party. Even the struggling Liberal Party, which was unable to run a full slate in 1999, was able to secure a name on the ballot in all 57 constituencies this time around. This is a big blow to Tories, indeed.

The race in Flin Flon will now be fought between NDP incumbent Gerrard Jennissen and Liberal challenger Garry Zamzow. That's if you can really call it a race: Jennissen took 73% of the vote in the last election.

The failure to run a full slate will be especially hard for the Tories' reputation in northern Manitoba. In some election campaigns, the Tory leader doesn't even visit the north. Now, long accused of neglecting and ignoring the north, the Tories won't even be offering residents of part of that region the chance to to vote for them.

Adieu, Monsieur Rocan

Longtime former Tory MLA Denis Rocan didn't follow through with his threat to run in the provincial election. He had suggested possibly running as an independent against Hugh McFadyen in Fort Whyte. The other obvious option for him would have been to run as an independent in Carman, where he was challenged and defeated for the Tory nomination. Frankly, running in Carman (where the Conservatives got 52% of the vote in 2003) would've been his best shot at winning.

I have to say I think Denis Rocan is a pretty decent guy, having met him once in the 90s. I could probably never vote for him myself, but I've heard he was a solid representative and hard worker in Carman. It didn't seem to do him much good within the Tory ranks, however -- he was booted out first as the candidate when he lost the nomination race and then from the caucus after he broke ranks and supported the NDP's budget.

Wellington recap

The race in Wellington continues to attract a lot of media attention, especially now that former New Democrats Conrad Santos and Joe Chan are running as independents against their old party. Flor Marcelino, the NDP's candidate and editor of the Philippine Times, looks like a great candidate. She'll do well.

The little parties

In addition to the three most established parties, the Green Party and the Communist Party are running candidates. The Greens will be on the ballot in 15 constituencies, while the Communists will be an option in six. The voters in Fort Rouge will have the most choice in this election, with six candidates to choose from: a New Democrat, a Conservative, a Liberal, a Green, a Communist, and an Independent.

The Green Party leader, Andrew Basham, is running directly against Premier Gary Doer in his constituency of Concordia. Andrew Basham's mother, whose basement he apparently still lives in, is running in Wolseley, where the Greens captured about 19% of the vote in 2003. After the infighting that's plagued the Greens since then and the NDP's general dominance of the environment as an issue, there's little hope they'll be able to even come close to repeating their 2003 result.

Manitoba's Communist Party, a perennial competitor and probably the most active such party in Canada, is also running. Most of its candidates are the same names that appear on the ballot election after election.

I once spent a little while chatting with Darrell Rankin, the party's leader, after he happened to knock on my door in one election. As a candidate, he struck me as quite interesting, engaging and intelligent. I wasn't quite as impressed with the party pamphlet -- complete with a headline praising the regime in North Korea -- that he left behind.

A day at the races

I'll be posting some seat-by-seat predictions in the very near future. However, I may wait to see what the next provincial poll numbers are before weighing in on the really close races.

My guess is that, with the relatively sleepy pace of the campaign so far and the inability of the Tories to land any punches, the next poll will show an increase in NDP support over the last poll, with the Liberals and others down a couple points each, and the Tories holding steady. Then I expect the NDP to come out a few points below those numbers on the night of May 22. My assumption is that there are many fickle and wishy-washy voters who, once alone in the dim light of the polling booth, will vote for change regardless of who's in power or how well they've done.

The last poll before the campaign started showed the NDP and Tories neck-and-neck at 40%, with the Liberals at 15%, and others holding what's left. To compare, the NDP received 49% in the last election, with the Tories getting 36%, the Liberals 13%, and others 1%. If the poll numbers stay as they are when people vote, it's likely the NDP would be re-elected with a majority by winning a pile of Winnipeg seats by a small margin, while the Tories stack up giant majorites in places like Steinbach, Emerson, and Pembina.

In the next poll, the Liberal numbers will be the ones to watch: provincially, the Liberals almost always fall during the campaign, which tends to benefit the NDP. The Tories usually have the best chance of winning when centre-left voters are split between the NDP and the Liberals. If the Liberals buck the trend and creep upward, it may cut into NDP votes in southern Winnipeg and toss those seats to the Tories. In contrast, if the Liberals sink below the 13% they got in the past two elections, the NDP may be able to pick up Inkster from the Liberals as well as Southdale and Kirkfield Park from the Tories.

To compare with 2003, the pre-campaign polls then put the NDP ahead at 44%, with the Conservatives at just 30% and the Liberals at 21%. Mid-campaign polls showed the NDP surge to 51% and 55%, while the Liberal numbers dropped off and the Tory numbers stayed static. On election day, the Tories "pulled" their vote well and ended up with 36%, still well behind the NDP's 49%.

A second thing to watch in the next poll will be the Winnipeg/non-Winnipeg split in the numbers. The last study showed the NDP down 8 points in Winnipeg and down 15 points outside of Winnipeg compared to the last election. If the party picks up, will it be in one region or both?

Astonishing facts

Emerson and Springfield, now both staunchly Tory seats, were once NDP seats.

In 1973, Steve Derewianchuk, the NDP candidate in Emerson, took 2,374 votes, beating out the Tory with 1,937 votes and the Liberal with 1,768 votes. The victory was relatively short-lived, however: Albert Driedger regained the seat for the Tories in 1977. Driedger later went on to represent Steinbach in the legislature. In Emerson in 2003, the Tories took 59% of the vote to 21% for the Liberals and 19% for the NDP.

Rene Toupin won Springfield for the NDP in 1969 and 1973, but lost it in 1977. Andy Anstett narrowly regained the seat for the NDP in 1981, only to lose it to Tory Gilles Roch by 55 votes in 1986. Almost immediately after being re-elected as a Tory in 1988 (and being subsequently denied a cabinet post), Roch crossed the floor to join Sharon Carstairs's Liberals, which had just become the Official Opposition. The Tories easily regained the seat in 1990 and have held it ever since with ever-increasing majorities, which come largely due to an influx of wealthy Tory voters into new subdivisions in places like Oakbank. In 2003, the Tories won the seat with 61% of the vote, to the NDP's 31%.

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