After the mediocre prediction posted in last spring’s federal election, you think Prairie Topiary would have the good sense not to come out of retirement once again to make an election prediction. Alas, old habits die hard.
This is my forecast for this Tuesday’s provincial election: 34 NDP, 22 PC and 1 Liberal. Yes, so that means an unprecedented fourth majority for Manitoba’s NDP and a first for Premier Greg Selinger, a slightly larger and stronger PC opposition under Hugh McFadyen, and Liberal survival as Jon Gerrard clings to perhaps the last bastion of Liberal support in his River Heights seat.
Expect the NDP to win a comfortable majority of seats but lose the popular vote to the Tories who tend to pile up massive wins in rural areas yet fall just short of victory in most of Winnipeg suburbia.
Throughout the campaign, the media has kept its focus on the battles in Winnipeg, which holds 31 of the province’s 57 seats and the bulk of NDP holds that the Tories have to win to form government. I think, however, that the races outside of Winnipeg are just as interesting, so let’s start there.
In southwest Manitoba, which has eight seats, expect the Tories to win solid victories in Arthur-Virden, Spruce Woods, Agassiz and Riding Mountain. I’m expecting previously NDP-held Dauphin and Swan River to be close. Though incumbent and Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk is not running again, I expect the NDP to retain their Swan River Riding. In Dauphin, the battle is much tighter given riding redistribution, which reduces the NDP’s 2007 lead to 900 votes. I predict Tory candidate Lloyd McKinney will score an upset victory here over the NDP’s Stan Struthers, taking the seat for the Tories for the first time since 1977.
Brandon’s two seats are also battlegrounds. Brandon East has been held by the NDP since 1969, though the party’s wins have been slimmer in recent years. Brandon West, though traditionally Conservative, went NDP in 1999 and 2003 before Rick Borotsik took it back for the Tories in 2007. Both races could go either way in this election, though I predict an NDP hold in East and a Conservative hold in West.
SW MB tally: 2 NDP, 6 PC
This region has 14 seats, most of which elect Conservatives. The NDP is hoping to hold its seats in Interlake, Gimli, Selkirk, and Dawson Trail, with Tory challengers strongest in Interlake and Dawson Trail. I predict defeat for Ron Lemieux in Dawson Trail against Tory Laurent Tetrault but NDP holds in the other three, with Interlake the narrowest of these. I may not be right – in 2007, I wrongly predicted defeat for Lemieux.
The only other seat worth watching is Portage la Prairie, which has never elected a New Democrat MLA, a goal the NDP has nevertheless been coming closer and closer to achieving in recent years. With redistribution, the 2007 Tory margin is only 400 votes and their incumbent is not running again while the NDP’s James Kostuchuk is. I’m not predicting it, but this may be one of the few places the NDP can make gains despite slippage in their vote elsewhere. Expect easy Tory wins elsewhere in this region.
SE MB tally: 3 NDP, 11 PC
I don’t see any surprises here. Provincially, the NDP has long ruled northern Manitoba and should take all four seats again in this election.
Northern MB tally: 4 NDP
Let’s get the strongholds and easy wins out of the way. The Conservatives will easily win Charleswood, Tuxedo and McFadyen’s seat of Fort Whyte (3 seats). Expect easy NDP wins in Wolseley, Minto, Logan, Point Douglas, St. Johns, Burrows, Elmwood, Concordia, Kildonan, The Maples, Transcona and Greg Selinger’s seat of St. Boniface (12 seats). And though the Tories may be eyeing the following seats (as they should), they’ll also remain safe for the NDP in this election: Assiniboia, St. James, Rossmere, Radisson, St. Vital, Fort Garry-Riverview and Fort Richmond (7 seats). That leaves nine Winnipeg battlegrounds to consider.
Kirkfield Park and Southdale: In 2007, these were the site of shocking NDP gains in Tory heartland. While the Conservatives are putting up stronger campaigns in this election, the organizational resources of the NDP combined with the incumbency factor of the MLAs likely mean NDP holds. Either way, these will be close races.
Tyndall Park and Fort Rouge: These represent the only true Liberal-NDP battles in the city. As Inkster in 2007, most of what is now Tyndall Park was strongly Liberal. Redistributed results, however, put the Liberals only 400 votes ahead in this seat and, without now-MP Kevin Lamoureux as their candidate, the Liberals will almost certainly see the seat return to the NDP fold. Liberal Paul Hesse is putting up a strong campaign in Fort Rouge against the NDP’s Jennifer Howard and it’s their only chance – albeit a long shot – of actually gaining a seat in this election. With Liberal vote fizzling in this election, I predict an NDP hold.
River Heights: Liberal leader Jon Gerrard is fighting to hold his own seat against Marty Morantz of the Conservatives. With redistribution, he would have won 4,448 to 2,407 votes in 2007, which is still an impressive margin of victory. Despite the Liberals’ plunge in the polls, I think the good doctor can eke out a victory here. This seat was traditionally Conservative until Sharon Carstairs took it in 1986 and they have struggled to win it since, succeeding only in 1995.
Riel, Seine River and St. Norbert: These three NDP seats in southern Winnipeg are being strongly targeted by the Conservatives. Under redistribution, the NDP would have won them last time by 2,200, 2,100 and 500 votes, respectively. With a close margin of victory and no incumbent running for the NDP, St. Norbert is ripe for Tory picking and I think they’ll do it. My gut tells me the margin of victory is too much for the Tories to overcome in the other two seats, though, even for popular former City Councillor Gord Steeves, who hopes to knock off Health Minister Theresa Oswald in Seine River.
River East: Conservative Bonnie Mitchelson barely held on to this seat in 2007, in what was a surprisingly strong result for the NDP. Under the redistributed boundaries, the NDP would have actually won the seat by 70 votes instead of losing it by 52 votes. I think the NDP’s numbers will drop here, like in most areas of the province, so that the Conservatives hold the seat.
Winnipeg tally: 25 NDP, 5 PC, 1 Liberal
Of the 16 close races I’ve identified throughout Manitoba, I predict NDP wins in 9 (Swan River, Brandon East, Interlake, Kirkfield, Southdale, Tyndall, Fort Rouge, Riel, and Seine River), Conservative wins in 6 (Brandon West, Dauphin, Dawson Trail, Portage, St. Norbert, and River East) and a Liberal win in River Heights. Whether I’m right or wrong will come with Tuesday night’s news.
If I am right, the NDP will be jubilant even if stung by a few of their losses, Conservatives will devastated even if in a stronger position to win in 2015 (with a similar seat count to the NDP’s before they took power in 1999), and the Liberals will be relieved to be alive even with the soul searching that undoubtedly lies ahead for them.
Photo: A ballot from Afghanistan’s 2006 legislative elections. Large numbers of Manitoba voters will hopefully exercise their own right to vote on October 4.