FROM LEFT: Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell at a constituency Christmas party a couple of years ago. • Mayor Shari Decter Hirst was digitally transformed into a flight attendant for an April Fool's Day promotion to get the attention of WestJet as the airline was deciding which city would be part of its new routes. • Rick Chrest, bunnied up to grab some attention in a recent ad for his furniture store. The former city councillor is the only declared mayoral candidate to date. (BRANDON SUN)
Drew Caldwell is between a rock and a hard place.
Results from two Brandon Sun/Probe Research polls show the NDP is dropping like a stone in Westman — mirroring the governing party’s poor popularity across Manitoba. And unless the New Dems are blessed with nothing short of a miracle before the next election, there is a very strong likelihood they would lose Brandon East, which has voted orange since the constituency was created in 1969.
The Liberal Party is slicing away at the bleeding NDP, while the Progressive Conservatives are showing stong support.
As you’ll read in today’s Sun, support for the NDP in Westman has plummeted since the last provincial tilt in 2011, with less than 30 per cent of voters indicating they would vote for an NDP candidate — a 13 per cent drop in two and a half years.
In Brandon East, the Tories now have a double-digit lead over the NDP — 47 per cent of those surveyed would support the Tory candidate while just 31 per cent would vote for the NDP. Long considered a safe socialist haven for the NDP amid a swirling sea of Tory blue in Westman, the largely working-class constituency is up for grabs, according to a new Probe Research poll released exclusively by the Brandon Sun today.
It was one of three polls Sun readers will have a chance to see first from the respected and accurate Winnipeg-based polling firm. The first was in Thursday’s edition and featured a hypothetical ballot with a list of names respondents could select for mayor. More on that further down.
Back to my old friend — well, we’re actually the same age — who is facing the decision of his professional life in the coming days and weeks.
Caldwell has proven to be very electable, having first been on Brandon city council in the early ’90s and then at the Manitoba legislature since the Dippers defeated Gary Filmon’s great Tories in 1999. But that could all come to an end, as the numbers now show he could easily lose to a Tory (hallo, Mike Waddell, Coun. Len Isleifson or any number of upstart capitalist pols) or even — gasp! — a Liberal (paging Rolf Dinsdale; Mr. Dinsdale, please).
So there’s that for Caldwell to chew on with his granola.
Then in the mayoral poll, I compiled a list of names of folks I figured were either thinking of running for the top office, should run for it, or already wore the chains. Probe conducted telephone interviews with adults living in Western Manitoba, including 404 adult residents of Brandon between Jan. 20 and Jan. 26.
And on Jan. 24, former city councillor and colourful and successful businessman Rick Chrest announced he would be a candidate for mayor. By coincidence, he was also on our list — and often on the lips of the Probe respondents.
Chrest turned out to be the front-runner in Brandon’s 2014 hypothetical mayoral race, with 29 per cent support, with Mayor Shari Decter Hirst in second place with 24 per cent and Caldwell at 15 per cent. Nineteen per cent of all Brandonites surveyed were undecided or refused to say which candidate they would support.
I think it’s excellent that a quality candidate such as Chrest has thrown his hat into the ring.
The incumbent is playing her cards close to her chest. And there could be good reason for that.
According to Probe senior research associate Curtis Brown — a former Brandon Sun political reporter and editorial page editor, and a really nice guy — many of Decter Hirst’s previous supporters have "drifted away." So that’s perhaps why she’s not saying whether she’s going to run — she’s waiting to see which way the wind is blowing.
Well, it’s blowing any political future she might have been pondering off course.
And then there’s Caldwell, who hasn’t stated publically that he’s running for mayor, but is certainly being urged to do so by many Brandonites. But you can’t have two lefties splitting the vote against the self-proclaimed small-c conservative Chrest.
Even though Decter Hirst finished second in our poll, to my mind there’s nowhere to go but down for her Worship.
And I certainly don’t think Chrest should go unchallenged in his quest to be mayor. Yes, he’s a good candidate, but Brandon voters deserve to have a choice of who should be mayor.
Without having to run a campaign and engage in debates, we’ll never really get to fully examine Chrest’s record and character.
I thought there could be an acclaimed mayoral candidate in this election. I thought it would be the first one to announce.
And I thought Caldwell had enough political smarts to take the cues weeks ago from the many people who have phoned his office, or stopped him in the street urging him to run for mayor.
But if that didn’t do it, maybe these two polls will.
Given the fact the writing is on the wall for his party provincially, he should announce his candidacy for mayor sooner than later. There’s nothing to be gained by waiting.
As for Decter Hirst? If she was serious about seeking re-election, she would have said so weeks or months ago. Now all she is doing by not saying anything is hurting the left’s chance of waging a good war against Chrest and the right.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 31, 2014