Thursday, 31 March 2011

Why Selinger is Falling

Greg Selinger: Current NDP
 Premier of Manitoba.

Image Source: flickr

Hugh McFadyen is going to be elected the next Premier of Manitoba later this year. The New Democratic Party of Manitoba has slipped increasingly in the polls since 2010. Much of this isn't due to policies per se (though being in government when many governments are experiencing a cyclical deficit does hurt) so much as style. Greg Selinger does not have the look of a charismatic and confidence inspiring man; he's too dull and wonkish.

There are many voices in Winnipeg's Rightwing blogsophere, like the Black Rod or the Blue Rod, who pontificate on how NDP overreach is the cause of this decline. These ideologues are spouting utter nonsense, similar policies under Doer didn't induce a peep as much complaint as seemingly minor gaffes (like naming a lake after a hockey player ... wait for it ... before another landmark was to be automatically named after a dead soldier!) from Selinger do.  

Poor public relations and a Stephane Dion-like, wonkish aloofness explains some of the NDP's slump, but there are a few other factors.

1. Manitobans want a change in government about every ten years.

Gary Doer said it best in a Winnipeg Free Press interview with Dan Lett:

Last April, the two leaders [Doer and Harper] were sharing a quiet moment on a plane to Churchill for a funding announcement when the topic turned to the shelf life of politicians. Both men agreed good politicians were always on the lookout for signs they had worn out their welcome.

"We were talking about our families, sports and politics in general. One of the things I said to him was that I have always appreciated people who could get out on their own terms. I always thought that 10 years was about right in terms of getting ready to leave. I've seen too many good people making speeches and not being able to leave on their own terms."
So, according to Doer, the average shelf life of a good politician is ten years. In Manitoba it would probably be reasonable to extend that to the average shelf life of a government. Gary Doer was getting out before the voters' made him and he was passing command of the soon-to-sink ship to the uncharismatic Selinger.

2. The Cyclical Deficit

In recessions governments across the world experience higher than average deficits. Even jurisdictions that are doing relatively well face higher annual budget deficits. This is because there isn't as much business activity, hence less profits and thus less revenue from business taxes. This relatively simple phenomena has reared it's ugly head in the UK, during the end of the Brown government, in the United States during the Bush-Obama transitional years where the already large annual budget deficit ballooned, in Canada (where a projected surplus was turned into a deficit in a matter of months), and in the Province of Manitoba. When the economy is in full health again and the government is collecting normal amounts of tax revenue such deficits will decline. Unfortunately, the RAG Machine doesn't seem to understand this concept.

Tom Brodbeck of the Winnipeg Sun, for instance, has screamed at the Province's "irresponsibility" in racking up the deficit through "wasteful spending" on "government bureaucracies" and "administratiors who have hijacked the health-care system". It is somewhat ironic to hear Brodbeck talk of cutting "administrators" rather than front-line services, as that's the oldest austerity trick in the book - demonize the civil servants tasked with running the system, reduce their resources, and cut the services when you find out the administrators actually are necessary (full disclosure: one of my relatives is an evil WRHA HR person). The supposed "bureaucratic elite" is a very easy target for shameless Rightwing populists like Brodbeck and his ideological kin south of the 49th parallel.

Whatever it's paucity, deficit fear-mongering works. It tends to work really well when applied to centre-left parties, which are supposedly "spendthrift" (regardless of what the actual record shows). This has damaged Selinger in the eyes of many potential voters.

3. The Cult of Doer's Personality

It cannot be emphasized enough that with 21 years as Leader of the Manitoba NDP Doer shaped the party in his image. It became less of a bottom-up, mass-membership driven party and more of a leader (and party elite) driven one. Much of the NDP's popular appeal wasn't based on policy or interactive voter education so much as "Doer seems like a nice guy". If you remove the centre of political gravity, this whole personality-centric system collapses. And that's what's happening.

Because of all this it's overwhelmingly likely that McFadyen will replace Selinger. The deck was stacked against Doer's successor and the defeat couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Nevertheless, this shows the perils of building a party on personality and lacking a clear vision for the Province. And, with McFadyen's round of austerity, privatization, and union busting likely to come next year, the Province will desperately need a social democratic alternative.


  1. I find it hard to believe the PC party will go from 19 to 29 seats.

    McFadyen comes across as a whining crybaby whenever he speaks in public, people just dislike him.

  2. I really don't think that'll kill him. There's a good chance the PCs might get 31 seats this election, the NDPD has continously slid in the polls since the start of 2010 and the Tories have continously rose. Given Manitoba's Winner Take All system, the Tories just might get quite a few seats (especially if the Liberal vote rises).