Monday, May 21, 2007

Election oracle, part 3: non-Winnipeg

Image: The Oracle of Amon at Oasis Siwa in Egypt. Said to have been visited by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.

Here is my second series of seat-by-seat predictions, this one covering non-Winnipeg constituencies. For two very close "nail-biter" races, I'm reserving my prediction for the time being. These "nail-biters" will be called in my next post.

Stronghold seats

Again, I'm not going to talk about seats that are party strongholds. Here's a list of the wins I'm predicting right off the bat.

NDP strongholds (7): Flin Flon, Interlake, Rupertsland, Selkirk, Swan River, The Pas, Thompson

PC strongholds (10): Arthur-Virden, Carman, Emerson, Lakeside, Morris, Pembina, Springfield, Ste. Rose, Steinbach, Turtle Mountain

Brandon East and Brandon West

Some Tories are predicting that they'll win in both Brandon East with candidate Mike Waddell and Brandon West with former Mayor and ex-MP Rick Borotsik. Brandon West may be close, but Brandon East would be quite the upset victory for the Tories.

Brandon's longtime political tradition is to elect a New Democrat MLA in Brandon East and a Conservative MLA in Brandon West. The city comprised one traditionally Tory seat before 1969, when it was split into two constituencies. In that year, in which the province elected its first NDP government, New Democrat Len Evans took Brandon East, holding it until 1999, when he retired. Brandon West has voted NDP only in 1981, and then again in 1999 and 2003.

Since 1999, Brandon East has been held by the NDP's Drew Caldwell, while Brandon West has been held by the NDP's Scott Smith. On average, Brandon West is wealthier than Brandon East, which makes it a more natural Tory seat. Tories, in making claims that they can take Brandon East, like to say that it's more a traditional Len Evans seat than it is a traditional NDP seat.

Interestingly, in 2003, the once solid Tory seat of Brandon West became almost as strongly NDP as Brandon East. Smith pulled off a 61% to 35% victory, making that race almost as easily won as Caldwell's, which was a 62% to 33% victory. Chalk it up to hard work and to Smith's stature as a cabinet minister.

If any of the two Brandon seats goes Tory, it'll be Brandon West, with its Tory tradition and high-profile candidate Rick Borotsik. Some folks have pointed to polls showing the NDP's fortunes having dropped since 2003 outside of Winnipeg. If that's the case, the shift is probably less strong in urban Brandon than in rural seats like Minnedosa or Ste. Rose. Even in a worst-case scenario drop in support for the NDP in Brandon, longtime NDP seat Brandon East will be safe. Brandon West is probably also safe in this election, but I'm going to put that seat in the "nail-biter" category for now.

Brandon East prediction: NDP win
Brandon West prediction: "nail-biter"


I've been watching this seat closely and, despite Dauphin's long association with New Democrat MLAs, it could be a very tight race. A lot of folks would be surprised that this could be the case, given that Dauphin has elected a Tory only once since 1969. Even in the painful NDP rout of 1988, Dauphin still went orange. However, today's Dauphin-Roblin isn't entirely yesterday's Dauphin.

In the last redistribution of electoral boundaries (just before 1999), the old Tory seat of Roblin-Russell was split in half, with the Roblin portion added to Dauphin. This created the new constituency of Dauphin-Roblin, which was much less traditionally NDP than the old seat of Dauphin. The next elections that followed saw NDP numbers go up throughout the province, so Dauphin-Roblin hardly seemed to be anything of a close race.

The 2003 numbers in the seat were 4,602 NDP to 2,979 PC, which is a good margin of 1,623 votes, though it's actually less than the NDP margins in more traditional non-Winnipeg Tory seats, like Brandon West (2,228) and Gimli (1,849). The closest NDP win outside of Winnipeg in number of votes was La Verendrye (1,571); at 1,623, Dauphin-Roblin was the second closest. If the NDP were to lose Gimli, Brandon West, and La Verendrye, it would likely lose Dauphin-Roblin too.

So the potential may be there for the Tories to win this seat. The question is whether the Tories have the organization, the candidate, and the momentum to actually pull it off. On these criteria, the Tories look to be 0 for 3. Unbelievably, the local Tory organization didn't even nominate a candidate until well into the election campaign. When they did, it was Roblin-area drug store manager Lloyd McKinney, hardly the sort of high-profile candidate you'd need to have to knock off a sitting Conservation Minister. Finally, it hardly needs to said that the Tories have had about as much momentum as a dead slug in this campaign.

My original intention was to put this seat in the election night "nail-biters" column, and it still might be closer than a lot of people expect. However, with the Tories seemingly unable to get their act together, I'm putting it in the NDP column.

Prediction: NDP win


Gimli is a seat that's traditionally see-sawed between the two parties: Tory in the 60s, then NDP in '69 and '73, back to Tory in '77, then NDP in '81 and '86, then Tory from '88 until '03 when Peter Bjornson finally snatched it back for the NDP.

Interestingly, if you look at those years, you can't help but conclude that Gimli is a bellweather constituency that tends to elect an MLA on the government side of the chamber. In fact, 1999's election was the only one since 1941 that Gimli didn't elect a government-side MLA.

The Tories actually might have had some chance here if they were organized and pulled a big name candidate, but they aren't and they haven't, and Bjornson's competent and popular. Expect Gimli to continue to be represented by an MLA in the governing party.

Prediction: NDP win

La Verendrye

This constituency is a mix of largely NDP-supportive francophone communities in the west and largely PC-supportive non-francophone communities in the east. NDP efforts will focus on maximizing support and turnout in their strong areas, while Tory efforts will be to do the same in their strong areas.

In 1999, Ron Lemieux, who is now our Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, narrowly defeated sitting Tory Ben Sveinson by 3,418 to 3,307 votes. By 2003, NDP support had increased and Lemieux took the seat by 3,881 NDP to 2,310 PC, which made it the tightest NDP win outside Winnipeg. With slippage in NDP support outside Winnipeg, the Tories have put this seat in their sights.

Lemieux's strengths include his profile as Minister and his strong support in the francophone communities of his riding. His weaknesses are the very flipside: being the Minister responsible for highways in an area of the province where many highways could use some work, and strong support for the Tories in the eastern half of the riding.

Lemieux's Tory opponent, Bob Stefaniuk, will do well in the Tory areas, and he's also very well-known in the francophone communites, having served as the Mayor of the RM of Ritchot since 1995. To add to the NDP's challenges, new developments in the area immediately surrounding Winnipeg are bringing in more voters who tend to favour the Tories. All of this makes Lemieux perhaps the NDP's most at-risk sitting MLA.

Prediction: "nail-biter"

Lac du Bonnet

This constituency was once a pretty strong NDP seat: the party took it in every election from 1969 to 1986. Since 1988, however, it's been Tory, first with Darren Praznik and now with Gerald Hawranik. Results for 2003 depict a close race in the constituency (51% PC to 45% NDP), though the race was actually less close than in 1999. Every indication is that the Tories will hold this seat in 2007.

Prediction: PC win


Everyone remembers the drama here in 2003: Tory Leanne Rowat squeaked ahead of New Democrat Harvey Paterson by a mere 12 votes. In 2007, the re-match is on as both candidates are running again. I'd like to say it's going to be as close a race as last time but, with slipping NDP support outside Winnipeg and Rowat's new profile as the incumbent MLA, the Tories will likely win by 1,000 votes.

Prediction: PC win

Portage La Prairie

Portage La Prairie has a long history of not voting NDP. It's been Tory since 1977 and was a Liberal seat before that. However, things look to be slowly changing to the point that I think it will elect a New Democrat sometime within the next several provincial elections. Part of it has to do with the changing character of Canadian politics, namely the strengthening of an urban-rural voting cleavage.

It used to be that Tories could get elected in the cities, but that seems to be less and less the case both federally, where the Tories last year couldn't elect a single MP in any of Canada's three largest cities, and provincially, where the Tories last time barely hung on in the City of Winnipeg, with 6 seats to the NDP's 23. And, as we know, the NDP generally has a tough time in rural areas: where they once elected an MLA in Emerson, they now can only dream of surpassing 20%. Portage La Prairie, Manitoba's fourth largest city with close to 13,000 people, is starting to join the urban non-Tory bandwagon.

In 2003, the NDP came 501 votes away from winning, which was about 200 votes closer than in 1999. If the NDP goes upward in any non-Winnipeg seat, this may be the one. Running for the party against the Tories' David Faurschou is popular local teacher James Kostuchuk. I predict the NDP won't manage to scoop this seat from the Tories, at least not this time, but I could be surprised on election night.

Prediction: PC win


Russell is another seat where the NDP actually fared worse in 2003 than in 1999, though this is likely because the Liberals couldn't even come up with a candidate in 1999. That year, the Tories won it with 53% to the NDP's 47%. In 2003, the Tories took it with 52% to the NDP's 41%. Len Derkach, who's been the Tory MLA there since 1986, will likely increase this margin once again.

Prediction: PC win


In 2003, of the 26 seats outside of Winnipeg, 12 were taken by the NDP and 14 were taken by the Tories. So far, I'm predicting 10 NDP, 14 PC, and 2 "nail-biters."

This brings my province-wide prediction to the following:

Winnipeg: 22 NDP, 5 PC, 1 Lib, 3 "nail-biters"
Non-Winnipeg: 10 NDP, 14 PC, 0 Lib, 2 "nail-biters"
Total: 32 NDP, 19 PC, 1 Lib, 5 "nail-biters"

The "nail-biters" I'll predict later this evening. They are Fort Garry, Inkster, Kirkfield Park, La Verendrye, and Brandon West. Four of these are NDP-PC races and one is an NDP-Liberal race, meaning that the NDP could win up to 36 on election night. At worst, they might end up with 32 seats, to 23 for the Tories and 2 for Liberals. Either way, another NDP majority looks certain at this point.

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