Friday, May 25, 2007

Forward, not back

Image: Nellie McClung, 1873-1951. A feminist, politician, and social activist, Nellie McClung was instrumental in securing for women the right to vote and to run for public office in Manitoba. This occurred in 1916, making Manitoba the first province to enfranchise women.

It was fabulous to see in this week's election an increase in the proportion of women MLAs. Obviously, at 32%, we're a long ways yet from seeing something close to gender parity in the chamber. Nevertheless, progress is progress: Manitoba now has a higher proportion of women sitting in its assembly than does any provincial legislature in Canada or the House of Commons.

Interestingly, the parties all ran similar proportions of female candidates: 33% of the NDP's and Liberal Party's candidates and 30% of the PC Party's candidates were women. However, the NDP elected a caucus with the greatest proportion of women: 13 of 36 (36%), compared to 5 of 19 (26%) for the Tories and 0 of 2 (0%) for the Liberals. This might suggest that the NDP runs more women in winnable constituencies (as opposed to running women only as "sacrificial lamb" candidates).

Across Canada, assemblies in PEI, Ontario, and Quebec have the next greatest share of women, with around 25%. Our three northern territories have the poorest rate of representation by women with only 11% in each of their assemblies. In the House of Commons, 21% of MPs are female.

In the last federal election, the NDP had the best record both of running and electing female candidates: 35% of its candidates were women, compared to 30% for the Bloc, 26% for the Liberals, 23% for the Greens, and a dismal 12% for the Conservatives. Among elected MPs, 41% of the NDP caucus is female, compared to 33% for the Bloc, 21% for the Liberals, and 11% for the Conservatives.

A free tip for Harper's Conservatives: Still looking to shed that public perception of your party as comprising mainly angry old white guys? How about not running only angry old white guys as candidates.


Final results for the constituencies of Brandon West (the PC's Borotsik currently ahead by 56 votes) and River East (the PC's Mitchelson currently ahead by 50 votes) are still pending, as results for institutions have yet to be added. It's highly unlikely that these ballots will change the result, as there will probably be less than 50 to count for each race. However, recounts are likely in both constituencies.

What's going on in Morris, Manitoba?

The NDP candidate there finished with a little over 2,500 votes, or 33%. This is an astonishing result for the longtime die-hard Tory seat. In 2003, the NDP pulled 1,500 votes, or 23%.

Meanwhile, in Portage La Prairie, another smaller Manitoba city, the NDP's Kostuchuk came closer than in 2003, finishing only 400 votes behind Tory candidate Faurschou. And in Tuxedo and Charleswood, suburban Tory seats not at all targeted by the NDP, NDP numbers crept upward despite no visible NDP campaigns.

These results are a sign of a growing urban-rural voting cleavage, in which urban voters gravitate away from the Conservatives and rural voters gravitate to them. It's not a good trend for the Tories given that Manitoba's population is increasingly urbanized. In Winnipeg, the Tories only hold 4 of 31 seats, only 2 more than the struggling, nearly fringe-status Liberals.

Fort Rouge's closer race must've driven the voter turnout up considerably. Only 7,145 electors voted in 2003, compared to about 8,100 this time. Compared to 2003, the NDP and PC each lost 300 votes, while Liberal candidate Paul Hesse more than doubled the Liberals' 2003 total of 1,200 votes. His will be a name to watch in Manitoba politics.

Bordering on frantic

The next election campaign will be fought under different constituency boundaries. The Manitoba Boundaries Commission meets once every ten years to readjust the electoral boundaries based on changes in population. The Commission will next meet in 2008 to begin the lengthy process of readjusting constituency boundaries using 2006 census data.

My guess is that we'll see Winnipeg's share of seats rise from 31 to 32, with non-Winnipeg's share dropping from 26 to 25. In the city, I imagine we'll see one new seat in each of southeast and southwest Winnipeg, with one disappearing from the inner city somewhere. Outside Winnipeg, expect seats like Gimli, Selkirk, and Springfield to shrink in size due to population increases while northern and rural seats increase in size due to population decline.

These changes always set off debates over what constitutes adequate representation. Should remote populations in northern Manitoba, with huge geographies and transportation challenges, lose representation when their share of the population declines? Should rural Manitoba see their share decline as their population slips?

And when boundaries are finalized and a seat has vanished, incumbents are left to scrap over who gets to run where. It's sort of like an ugly game of musical chairs or, to be more current, a season of Survivor: Manitoba. In 1999, after one inner-city seat was eliminated, NDP incumbents had to battle over a reduced number of seats in which to run. Eventually, a deal was struck: Conrad Santos, whose downtown-area seat of Broadway was eliminated, would run in Becky Barrett's safe seat of Wellington, while Barrett would venture north and face off against Liberal Kevin Lamoureux in Inkster.

In other areas, incumbents can hand pick the safer of several of their old constituency's regions to run in. For example, in 1999, the old seat of Crescentwood was eliminated, with portions added to Fort Garry and the new seats of Lord Roberts and Fort Rouge. Crescentwood MLA Tim Sale opted to run in the safe seat of Fort Rouge rather than take his chances in the then-Tory area of Fort Garry while Osborne MLA Diane McGifford ran in Lord Roberts.

When the seat boundaries are finalized in 2008 or 2009, who will the inner-city NDP MLAs and the rural Tory MLAs vote off their respective islands when a seat is eliminated? Expect talk about "retirements" and jockeying for positions to start soon.

Meanwhile, Theresa Oswald in Seine River and Erin Selby in Southdale may have the luxury of seeing their two constituencies turn into three, with the option of cutting loose the most Tory of these theirs to make (and thereby making their own re-election much easier).

Four-peat? Five-peat? A Doer dozen?

I can't stress how devastating this loss must have been for the Tories, who despite pre-election forecasts, wound up worse off than before the election. They'll need to pick up a full ten seats next time in order to squeak in with a bare majority -- that's a swing of a magnitude rarely seen in Manitoba politics.

While the next election campaign will be fought under different constituency boundaries
, it might be a fun exercise to take a look and see where Tory hopes could lie following from their 2007 rout.

Based on seat pluralities and voting tradition, La Verendrye (1,040), Kirkfield Park (1,133), and Southdale (1,278) are obvious targets. Let's say the Tories take back all of those: that would give us 33 NDP to 22 PC.

That leaves them with their next most likely option, which is to win against suburban incumbents who all won relatively easily this time: Riel (2,274), Seine River (2,497), Assiniboia (2,478), St. James (1,880), Fort Garry (2,180), Radisson (1,815), and St. Norbert (1,590). Those are not small pluralities to overcome, especially when you're trying to upset established incumbents. They'd need a strong urban-focused strategy, well-known candidates, lots of cash, and big campaign momentum to do it, but let's say they can take four of those back: 29 NDP to 26 PC.

If they do well, they may also have a chance at taking back bellweather riding Gimli (lost by 2,500 this time) and Liberal leader Jon Gerrard's seat of River Heights (2,413): 28 NDP to 28 PC.

To surpass the NDP, that leaves only traditional NDP seats in non-Winnipeg to win in: Dauphin-Roblin (950), Brandon East (1,086), Interlake (1,601), and Swan River (1,581). These seats have all been NDP for more than 20 years.

While four years can be a long time in politics, there's no question the Tories will again go into a campaign as underdogs. When the NDP surpasses the Saskatchewan NDP's four terms in a row, we'll start to wonder if we've become the social democratic counterpart to Alberta, an almost one-party state (the Tories have held power uninterrupted for over 35 years).


Anonymous said...

I agree with your comment about Paul Hesse as being someone to watch.

I live in Fort Rouge and he and his campaign really impressed me. I still voted for Jennifer because I wanted a rep in government, but Hesse was talking about Rapid Transit, urban planning, poverty, etc. All issues I wish Gary Doer would bring to the forefront at the Leg.

If he became leader of the Liberals, we might have a battle on our left flank. But I suspect that he will move to the Federal scene, because really, who wants the thankless job of leading a fringe party like the Maniotba Liberals?

Or else maybe we can steal him, like we did with Linda Asper and have him run for us in River Heights next time and turn it orange!

JCotton said...

Great post, i suspect the tories will not get power in this province for at least another 8-12 years.