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Will Jets or voter fatigue influence Manitoba election?

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dr. Jon Gerrard maskes an announcement at his campaign office in Winnipeg on Sept. 25, 2011.

Joe Bryksa/The Canadian Press/Joe Bryksa/The Canadian Press

Is incumbency a blessing or a curse? Will voter turnout hit a record low, and who will benefit if it does? And how about those Jets?

On Oct. 4, Manitoba voters will choose either to give the governing NDP a fourth mandate, this time under Greg Selinger, or replace them with Hugh McFadyen's Conservatives.

A lot of people seem to think that professional hockey could shape the outcome. Either that or exhaustion.

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Winnipeg voters can be forgiven for preferring to ignore this election campaign. It is, after all, the fourth time many of them have been asked to traipse to the polls in a single year.

The city elected its mayor, city councillors and school trustees in autumn 2010. Two federal by-elections followed in November; the federal election came along in the spring, and now it's time to choose the next provincial government.

"If there's one thing all political parties can agree on, it is that the Jets are more popular than the election," said Dave Shorr, director of media relations for the Manitoba Liberal Party, which is struggling to hold on to its single seat.

Mr. Shorr expects voter exhaustion to push turnout into the basement, which means the party that delivers the better ground game could be the party that wins the election. Both the Conservatives, who have greatly improved their fundraising and campaign machinery, and the NDP, who have always had a formidable ability to deliver their vote, believe they have the advantage.

Another factor could be how things are going in Manitoba. All in all, things are going rather well.

Winnipeg will have a new airport in a few months; the Canadian Museum For Human Rights will open next year; the city is home to North America's newest inland port using road, rail, and air to transport goods.

The housing market is strong, and unemployment is well below the national average.

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John Ploszay, a former councillor in the conservative town of Stonewall, about 25 kilometres north of Manitoba's capital, believes voters are likely to reward the NDP for the province's recent success.

"Although people may gripe about the government, they are pretty impressed with everything Winnipeg has," he said. "The economy is doing well in Winnipeg and Manitoba. [The NDP]can brag about that."

And did we mention: the Jets! The Premier was alongside the new owners when they announced the team's return – a huge coup for Mr. Selinger.

Nonsense: Health care and crime are the top two issues, rebuts Senator Don Plett, the Conservative's campaign co-chair. "Those are by far and out the thing that most Manitobans are concerned about. ...They are province-wide issues."

The Conservatives are also strongly critical of NDP plans to run a new hydro transmission line down the west side of Lake Winnipeg, claiming that it will cost billions more than an alternative route.

And as for hockey, "we absolutely do not believe for one second that the Jets coming back to Winnipeg is a political issue," Senator Plett maintained. "I don't think it will help the NDP."

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It is impossible to say who is the front-runner right now: Those who believe that election campaigns have been hijacked by polls should come to Manitoba, where they have been virtually non-existent.

But there is a final, intangible factor that could be at play. In five provincial election races that are under way or soon will be across the country, incumbents seem likely to win three: Brad Wall in Saskatchewan, Robert Ghiz in PEI and Kathy Dunderdale in Newfoundland.

Mr. Selinger and Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty in Ontario also are doing better than many had prognosticated after the federal Conservative victory last May.

In perilous times, voters may be inclining to the devil they know. Unless it really is all about the Jets.

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About the Authors
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More

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