Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell isn’t surprised to see plummeting support for his party as a recent poll indicated.
And in the two years leading up to a provincial election, it won’t be surprising to see the party put its public relations machine in overdrive to remind voters where the PST money is going.
The poll, conducted by Probe Research for the Brandon Sun, suggests NDP support in Brandon East has sunk much like the rest of the province.
Of those surveyed, 47 per cent would support the Tory candidate compared to 31 per cent for Caldwell or another NDP candidate.
"It’s not entirely surprising to me," Caldwell said. "It’s reflective of the challenges that we’ve had this year."
Caldwell was referring to his government’s PST hike last year which drew ire from taxpayers and created an easy target for the Opposition Conservatives.
"Everybody recognizes we had challenges with the PST rollout this year."
Since the Brandon East constituency was created in 1968, it has remained an orange bastien. However, the latest poll findings show the Conservatives have a double-digit lead.
"I’ve never subscribed to the view that Brandon East is a safe seat," Caldwell said. "Everyday is a referendum on how you do as an elected official."
While the next provincial election isn’t scheduled for another two years, Caldwell criticized the NDP’s political rivals of jumping the gun "measuring the drapes" for its new offices. Caldwell suggested a ramp-up in "communication" with taxpayers is the key to win back support for his seat.
"We have to demonstrate that the investment we’re making in Manitoba as a government in hard infrastructure has to be demonstrable. We have to be able to communicate and — by action — illustrate that we are building hard infrastructure for the future prosperity of this province."
MLA Reg Helwer, Caldwell’s Conservative counterpart in Brandon West, also saw strong support for his party in his riding in the poll and isn’t surprised to see the shift.
"They’re making big multi-million-dollar announcements and promises and I think Manitobans can’t trust the NDP anymore," Helwer said.
"We know the PST was very unpopular with Manitobans and the way it was brought in without a referendum, and I think that is reflected in these numbers as it was reflected in the byelections (in Morris and Arthur-Virden)."
These poll findings were released shortly after a hypothetical mayoral poll was conducted which put Caldwell in third place behind former city councillor Rick Chrest, who has declared himself a candidate, and Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, who has yet to make her intentions public.
Caldwell’s next political career move isn’t yet known officially, but he told the Sun last week that he is committed to fulfilling his MLA duties.
The poll also indicates a substantial hike in support for the political footnote that is the Manitoba Liberal Party.
With increased support for the Liberal brand at the federal level and modest increases of support in the two recent provincial byelections, Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari indicated there is at least one person already interested in flying the red flag in Brandon East.
"There has been more than one conversation," she said, but refused to go into further detail.
"Our efforts would be 100 per cent in any area we put candidates."
Bokhari, who will celebrate 100 days as the party’s leader this week, recognizes her party is a long way off from making a political splash in the province.
"We still have a very long way to go," she said. "At the moment there’s a lot of groundwork to do within the party."
She said she’s aware of the popular notion that NDP voters will "park" their vote with the Liberals in between elections only to ultimately vote for the New Democrats on election day, but the conditions as of late are ideal to strengthen the far-behind third-place party.
"I can only look at those numbers and be encouraged with the growth, that’s all I can do.
"I think a lot changes in two years," she said. "My focus at this moment in time is strengthening the party before the next general election and that means a lot of hard work."
The Probe poll shows support for the NDP in Westman has significantly decreased since 2011, with less than 30 per cent of voters indicating they would cast ballots for an NDP candidate, a 13 per cent dip compared to the last provincial election.
Curtis Brown, senior research associate with Probe, said based on the polling, PCs would sweep all of Western Manitoba if voters were to cast ballots today. And as for the Brandon East seat, "it really looks like the Progressive Conservatives would win this seat quite handily," Brown said.
Probe conducted telephone interviews with adults living in Western Manitoba, including 404 adult residents of the City of Brandon, between Jan. 20 and Jan. 26. The margin of error for a sample is plus or minus 4.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.