Well, as predicted, the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives won a majority (not just a majority but their largest majority ever) in last Tuesday’s provincial election. Now what?
One of the parts I find most irritating about extreme partisans is that they misinterpret results and make dumb predictions with assurance. So for Conservatives, Pallister’s victory means the sun will now shine, all regulations will go away, the economy will grow exponentially, and all waste will be eliminated from government. For NDP members, Pallister’s government will privatize everything, eliminate services, and try and make gay marriage illegal. A friend on facebook actually went as far as to say Manitobans no longer have the right to make fun of Trump supporters, which is a magnificently stupid thing to say, not to mention being a great demonstration of a logical fallacy (A is bad, B is bad, therefore B must be as bad as A).
There’s a book by political scientist Jared Wesley called Code Politics which explores political culture in the three Prairie provinces. Going over campaign material from decades worth of elections, he argues that each province is characterized by a political code word which political parties (on both sides of the spectrum) will use. Alberta is “freedom”, Saskatchewan is “security”, and Manitoba is “moderation”.
If you’ve read any analysis in the past few weeks, you’ll know Manitoban experts have been pointing to Sterling Lyon’s one-term Progressive Conservative government (1977-1981) as an example of where a party strayed too far from the center and lost the next election as a result.
So don’t expect radical change. Expect change around the edges. Pallister, I think, is cut from the same cloth as Stephen Harper: he wants to see long-term changes in attitudes, and knows that doing too much all at once dooms that project.
Consider that the Pallister government did not promise a particular date for a return to surpluses. Or that many of their promises were around improving services (reducing hospital wait-times, spending more on education, improving infrastructure). Not all of those promises will involve spending, but many of them will. It’s a typically Manitoban approach, in which even the Progressive Conservatives tend to run from the centre.
One area where you may see Pallister take a more aggressively conservative approach, however, is in the area of unions.
In his (lengthy) victory speech, he specifically mentioned the promise to make unionization votes private. This is a controversial issue for unions, which argue that in these conditions, in the time between a certification movement and the vote, employers will threaten employees. I’m not entirely sure I follow the logic on that one, but you can expect more strained relations between Pallister and unions.
This is also going to be immediately apparent in the New West Partnership. The NWP (on which I’ve done some research), is a trade block composed of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan in which certain barriers to trade/movement are harmonized. So if you get training to be a teacher in Saskatchewan, for instance, you can move to BC and practice without having issues getting your credentials recognized. Manitoba is widely expected to join now that it has a PC government, and that’s largely to do with issues around procurement. Due in part to the Manitoba NDP’s close link to the labour movement, it was unwilling to accept provisions which may disfavour unionized work (for example in construction). The fear for unions (and consequently for the NDP) was that Manitoba construction will be swamped by non-unionized labour, lowering employee protections and wages. Pallister and his caucus are much less concerned with that.
So what’s to be expected? A more conservative government, sure, and as the years go by a government which may feel more comfortable straying from the center. But also a government which aims to govern for more than four years, and for that reason one which probably won’t represent radical change.
Oh, and would you look at that? My prediction came true. Looks like I may know a thing or two about politics after all…