MIKE DEAL/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen scrums after the NDP government tabled the 2012 Manitoba budget.
So I guess I really do have some tried and true Tory traits.
Following last fall’s embarrassing loss to the NDP — which many pundits predicted was the Progressive Conservatives’ election to lose, and they did — I retrieved my rhetorical knives and started looking for some scapegoats to slaughter.
Then I wrote an editorial referring to the hapless Hugh McFadyen-led team that allowed the NDP to break records and attain a fourth consecutive majority government.
I noted the Tories got off to a good start in late August, but the campaign quickly devolved into a scattershot affair, drenched in despair.
I suggested the PC party attempted to appeal to everyone with a platform any Liberal would be proud of, and that only served to turn off all but the most ardent supporters.
The editorial was created days after McFadyen fell on his sword in his concession speech and announced he would step down as leader as soon as a replacement could be found.
The 44-year-old lawyer said it was time to let someone else try.
He was bitter — and sounded angry.
"Regrettably," he said, "today in Manitoba it appears that fear and deceit have won the day."
If the election had taken place in the spring one year ago, the Conservatives could have won a majority (the mantra "it’s time for a change" was in the air.)
But the fixed election date allowed the Manitoba NDP to start playing out its well-scripted campaign as soon as it was clear the historic spring flood wasn’t going to hit Winnipeg.
In that post-election editorial I also called for a complete housecleaning of everyone in the backrooms at the Leg and at party HQ.
In a subsequent Editor’s Notebook column, I repeated what I had heard from a few testy Tories who were seething over what they felt was a fatally flawed campaign.
Even though some 31,000 more Manitobans voted for the Tories than in 2007 — and there were several close races in the 2011 election — the fact remained the Tories were still in Opposition, with the same seat count they had before the Oct. 4 vote.
I still think the Tories were rocked by a slick advertising campaign by the NDP.
The electorate also seems to have been wooed by a bunch of promises made by Premier Greg Selinger that apparently may or may not be kept.
He certainly changed his mind about raising taxes, as we witnessed in last week’s budget.
Some estimates show that Manitobans are facing the biggest tax hike in a quarter-century, with $182 million in net new taxes.
But as for any thoughts out there that a new right-wing party needed to be created to combat the overly red McFadyen Tories, I think the results of this week’s provincial election in Alberta will put those notions to rest for good.
The extreme right Wildrose party — expected to win by pundits and pollsters — ended up in Opposition as the more middle-of-the road Conservatives maintained their dynasty.
And that’s really what has to happen here. The Tories need to galvanize support behind a set of clear centre-right policies.
Because after the dust has settled from last fall, it’s pretty clear the NDP aren’t impressing many Manitobans.
A Probe Research poll released prior to last week’s high-tax budget showed the McFadyen-led Tories had become the top choice of decided Manitoba voters. Again, as it was in the spring of 2011.
Probe said the PCs have edged slightly higher in popular support, from 43 per cent in the 2011 election to 45 per cent today. Support for the NDP, meanwhile, had dropped significantly — from 47 per cent in October to just 40 per cent now. It’s worth noting that one-in-four voters indicated they are undecided or refused to say which party they would support in a hypothetical election, Probe said.
So in springtime in Manitoba, the electorate’s thoughts turn to Tories?
If it hadn’t been for the perfect storm that blew in for the NDP over the course of the election campaign — a successful flood fight, the Jets return and a new stadium being built for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — combined with a slick campaign that was indeed full of "fear and deceit," McFadyen would be premier today.
So I’m backing down a bit for my calls for the Tories to take a hard turn to the right.
While I do think they pandered a bit too much for the urban Winnipeg women vote — key, for sure — there are ways of making Conservative values attractive to that demographic without watering down the brand.
The Tories also have to start defining who they are and what they stand for right now — not just a few months before a campaign.
And it appears that’s what’s going to happen.
"We are putting forth a positive alternative to expand the economy and create jobs without raising taxes," McFadyen said in a mailer to party faithful.
"We will start unveiling our initiatives in the legislature over the coming weeks as we fight this arrogant NDP government, led by a premier that all Manitobans now know cannot be trusted."
There are also some effective radio ads from the PC caucus accusing Selinger of lying about taxes and asking Manitobans phone his office to complain.
Not exactly the stuff expected from a "lame-duck" leader.
McFadyen has been on fire in question period. He knows his stuff, and knows how to get under the skin of the NDP.
He looks good on camera and still holds the respect of many in the party.
He’s not looking like a guy who’s finished with politics.
And he isn’t.
While he did tender his resignation on election night, thus triggering a leadership race, he hasn’t said he’ll resign his Fort Whyte seat in south Winnipeg.
And given the fact that only Brian Pallister has stepped up to the plate as a contender for the throne, I think the party needs to start thinking a bit outside the box.
While former Filmon-era cabinet minister and Portage-Lisgar MP Pallister is an accomplished politician, he’s really just another nice looking guy in a blue suit. A really, really tall guy in a nice blue suit. And there are some fears that his rural roots could hurt his chances in vote-rich suburban Winnipeg.
Pallister is also thought to be a bit further right than McFadyen, something that could set him up as an easy target for the NDP. And if the NDP managed to damage McFadyen’s chances by linking him with former premier Gary Filmon, they will likely be able to do the same with Pallister.
Even more an easy target for the NDP is the fact Pallister served in Stephen Harper’s government in Ottawa.
And Pallister is known for landing in hot water for speaking off the cuff. He was forced to apologize for a sexist remark he made a few years ago and just recently raised the ire of some party members when he said the Tories "deserved to get whooped" in the last election for running a poor campaign.
So barring any other high-profile entries into the leadership race — a spokesperson told me Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Hoeppner isn’t going to, and I haven’t heard back from St. Boniface Conservative MP Shelly Glover — then it’s time for the Tories to do something novel.
That’s right, convince McFadyen to take a run at keeping his old job. The one he’s currently doing so well.
I fully believe now that it wasn’t necessarily McFadyen’s fault that the party lost. I think some of the folks directing the campaign weren’t up to snuff, but I think it was the NDP who won the election — the Tories didn’t lose it.
Draft Hugh. Have him go toe-to-toe with Pallister leading up to and at the Oct. 27 convention and see who’s left standing.
The Progressive Conservative party — and the eventual leader — will be stronger for it.
THE SUN CONTINUES TO RISE
I’m very pleased to announce that top Red River College creative communications grad Daniella Ponticelli will be joining our staff as a reporter on May 14. Ponticelli has previously interned here and has family in Brandon.
As the editorial department continues to grow, we are now able to open up new ‘beats’ for reporters to provide readers with a more varied and interesting reading experience in print and online.
To that end, Ponticelli will be primarily responsible for covering the military, in addition to some general assignment duties.
CAREENING THROUGH CAREERS
While lumberjack is named as one of the worst jobs of 2012 according to Careercast.com, my chosen profession isn’t rated much better.
At the top is software engineer and at the bottom is the lumberjack.
Some best jobs also include: actuary; human resources manager; dental hygienist; and financial planner.
Worst jobs include: dairy farmer; enlisted military soldier; oil rig worker; newspaper reporter; waiter/waitress; butcher; and broadcaster.
Most stressful jobs include: enlisted soldier; firefighter; airline pilot; police officer; event co-ordinator; public relations executive; photojournalist; and taxi driver.
I’ve been a reporter, photojournalist and planned events when I worked in politics. No wonder I’m so stressed out.
I do note with interest that two of the occupations that are crying out for workers in Westman — butcher and oil rig worker — are considered some of the worst jobs.
So I guess I’d really do myself in if I decided that a good career change would be for me to go work as a rig pig.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 28, 2012