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In Manitoba’s second-largest city, you would think the province’s three largest political parties would have candidates lined up well in advance of a fall election set to be the most competitive in seven years.
Unfortunately, slightly less than five months in advance of the Oct. 3 election date laid out in Manitoba’s fixed-term elections legislation, Brandon’s electoral landscape seems to be a bit of a wasteland.
The battle shaping up in Brandon East between two-term Progressive Conservative incumbent Len Isleifson and NDP challenger Glen Simard is uncharacteristically competitive compared to the rest of the city.
Both Isleifson — a former city councillor — and Simard — a local teacher — have had their nominations locked up for ages in a race for a constituency that was a longtime NDP stronghold before the Progressive Conservatives took it when the Selinger government was swept out of office.
It’s the greatest chance a Brandon seat in the Manitoba legislature has to flip because, well, it’s the only constituency where an opposition party has nominated a candidate in all of Brandon.
It’s also the only constituency in Brandon, so far, with more than one candidate.
With Isleifson in Brandon East and newcomer Grant Jackson running under the PC banner in Spruce Woods in an attempt to succeed the retiring Cliff Cullen, the Tories have put the most legwork into assembling a field of candidates so far.
The PCs would be three-for-three, though they have yet to officially nominate James Montgomery in Brandon West almost three months after he announced his candidacy — the only person to do so in the whole constituency.
Based on the NDP’s website, the opposition have only nominated a single candidate in the one Brandon constituency where the incumbent is vying for re-election.
The Manitoba Liberals have not nominated anyone in Brandon, or anyone outside of Winnipeg at all, according to the party’s website.
While there’s still time for the situation to change, a creeping feeling is starting to set in that the Wheat City is about to see a repeat of the last two times we went to the polls.
In the 2021 federal election, the only mainstream party that really seemed to put an effort into running competitive candidates in the two Westman ridings was the Conservatives, which unsurprisingly won handily in both Brandon-Souris and Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa.
Last year, when Manitoba’s municipalities went to the polls, Brandon had four out of 10 wards in which councillors were acclaimed back into office due to a lack of candidates, while other wards came close to the same before some last-minute signups.
What both of those elections illustrated was a difficulty in finding people willing to put themselves out there in the current political climate, which is understandable considering the kind of microscope politicians are put under these days.
Unfortunately, they also show the consequences of neglecting grassroots work.
For federal and provincial political parties, the job isn’t just to govern but to lay the groundwork for future government by organizing support and fostering new talent.
When you don’t have active electoral associations and make sure residents of the communities you want to represent know who you are, what you stand for and what you plan to do to make their lives better, it’s hard to grab people’s attention and their votes.
With a documented decline in support for the ruling government displayed in polls since Pallister was in charge, it’s curious that Manitoba’s current second- and third-place parties don’t seem to have put extra effort into making a push for Brandon’s three constituencies.
You would figure that with two decade-plus incumbents having announced their impending departures in January, the other parties would do something to capitalize on a rare opportunity.
For all the talk about Tory MLAs supposedly fleeing a sinking ship by not running for re-election, there don’t seem to be a lot of sailors volunteering to step up and steer the rudder.
Should the NDP or Liberals be disappointed with their results come October — well, you reap what you sow. Apathy breeds apathy.