Gary Doer’s pragmatism

Today’s Globe and Mail points to Gary Doer’s pragmatism as the reason for his success as NDP premier of Manitoba. This resonates with what I’ve long believed: that in Manitoba, the NDP gains power when it can attract and hold votes that would otherwise go Liberal, and loses when Liberal votes either return to the roost (as they did, famously, in 1988) or go to the Conservatives.

Ed Schreyer was able to woo those moderates in 1969 — famously, when he inspired Larry Desjardins to cross the floor from the Liberals. Howard Pawley was more doctrinaire (and less competent) and scared ‘em off, but because of lingering concerns over the Conservatives (the quasi-draconian government of Sterling Lyon still vivid in Manitobans’ memory) and the appeal of Sharon Carstairs, they went Liberal rather than Conservative in 1988, and the NDP dropped to third place and its 12 safest seats. When the Liberals faltered, the NDP recuperated, so that when the Conservatives faltered, the NDP was that much closer to the finish line. Lesson: when the Liberal vote collapses, the NDP wins; whem the Liberal vote is strong, the NDP can’t — they’re chasing the same moderate voters.

Much is made about the PC-NDP dichotomy in my home province: the south and west is reliably Conservative, the north and east reliably NDP, and the electoral battles are fought along the frontier between the two. But there’s a good chunk of moderate voters out there as well: the electorate is more complex than winner-take-all choropleth maps make out. Parties that forget this dynamic and simply try to rally their own supporters do so at their peril.