25 minutes with Jim Adelson

As 1967 ended and 1968 began, television in Winnipeg was limited to what little viewers could receive over-the-air: the two local CBC and CTV stations, Radio-Canada’s French-language station, and a weak signal from a U.S. border station in North Dakota.

But in the summer of 1968, Winnipeggers’ television choices expanded dramatically. A group of businessmen erected TV antennas near the Minnesota border, and relayed three new U.S. TV signals back to Winnipeg via an intercity microwave link to provide content for Winnipeg’s two new cable TV systems: Videon in the western half of the city, Greater Winnipeg Cablevision in the east.

As viewers became familiar with the new offerings — NBC affiliate WDAZ, ABC affiliate KTHI and CBS affiliate KXJB, all from North Dakota — they also became familiar with the local personalities on those stations, who soon became as well-known in Winnipeg as they were south of the border.

One of those personalities was Jim Adelson, KXJB’s affable sports director and program host, who was a familiar face to a generation of Winnipeggers who watched the station’s channel 4 signal from the introduction of cable TV in 1968 until it was dropped from the lineup in 1986, when more reliable satellite signals from Detroit came available.

Last year, Adelson — now in his late eighties and long since retired to Arizona — visited Fargo and KXJB to reminisce on the station’s 60th anniversary. In a 25-minute interview that might bring back memories for Winnipeggers who remember the days when KXJB had a large audience in this city, Adelson shows that he remains a good story-teller.

Adelson

Click on image to open video in a new tab. (Might take a moment to begin.)

 

On dealing with controversy:

“I did the live studio wrestling, and that was a kick. I mean, people would come in and sit around the ring and the wrestlers would put on a show.”

“My favourite was . . . I can’t think of his name now, but he was the bad guy and he wore a swastika . . . So we got some boos and I was in the ring with him, and a couple of months later, my boss gets a letter . . . ‘How can you let Jim Adelson, a Jewish boy, stand in the ring with that terrible Nazi-looking guy.’ So the boss calls me in, and, I don’t know, I’ll call him.”

“I called the office and got Vern’s buddy, his assistant, and he started laughing. I said, ‘What’s so funny about this? The boss is madder than hell, you know!’ He said, ‘Do you know what the guy’s name is really? Jerry Goldberg — he’s one of your boys!’ I said, ‘Huh?!’ So, I went and talked to the boss, and he said, ‘Oh, forget it . . .'”.

On the risks of live programming:

“I did a half-hour talk show at 5:30 . . . you could call and visit. And we had a blizzard. It lasted for about three days, and I was stuck out there, and that was the one communication people had. As a matter of fact, I was doing a show and a kid called and said, ‘Say, I’m at the Westward Ho in Grand Forks. I’m single, and I’m looking for a girlfriend to get through this blizzard with me. Have them call room such-and-such!’ Live on television. I said, ‘I’ll try.'”

 

New flag was hated by some — but life went on

Top: The Canadian Red Ensign, which was the unofficial Canadian flag until the current flag was adopted on Feb. 15, 1965. Middle: The design initially favoured by Prime Minister Lester Pearson, dubbed the "Pearson Pennant". Bottom: The Canadian flag recommended by a parliamentary committee tasked with finding a new, distinctive Canadian design, and later approved by Parliament as the official flag of Canada.

Top: The Canadian Red Ensign, which was the unofficial Canadian flag until the current flag was adopted on Feb. 15, 1965.
Middle: The design initially favoured by Prime Minister Lester Pearson, dubbed the “Pearson Pennant”.
Bottom: The Canadian flag recommended by a parliamentary committee tasked with finding a new, distinctive Canadian design, and later approved by Parliament as the official flag of Canada.

Almost fifty years after it flew over Parliament Hill in Ottawa for the first time on Feb. 15, 1965, the Canadian flag is one that the vast majority of us cannot imagine being replaced by any other design.

But the months leading up to its creation, from Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s announcement in Winnipeg in May 1964 that a new Canadian flag was on its way to the final parliamentary vote on the new design that December, were some of the most politically divisive months in Canadian history.

For nearly a full century after Confederation in 1867, Canada had no official flag of its own aside from the British Union Jack. The federal government improvised, however, by treating various versions of the British Red Ensign over the years (the final version of which is shown above) as the unofficial Canadian flag.

This was a comfortable arrangement for many Canadians, who even into the ’60s continued to view Canada as a culturally British country within North America, and particularly for many of those who had fought under the Red Ensign as the de facto Canadian flag during World War II. For others, however, the Red Ensign was seen as a colonial holdover that ought to be replaced with an unambiguously Canadian flag.

Prime Minister Pearson, a World War I veteran who came to office in 1963 vowing to pursue a new flag, was one of those Canadians who felt the time was right for such a change. Speaking at the Royal Canadian Legion’s national convention in Winnipeg on May 17, 1964, Pearson announced that he intended to push ahead to legislate “a flag designed around the maple leaf [that] will symbolize, will be a true reflection of, the new Canada.”

As Rick Archbold described in A Flag for Canada: The illustrated biography of the Maple Leaf, Pearson faced a hostile reception from his audience:

Pearson tried valiantly to stay with his text and on his message. “Would such a change mean disrespect for the Union Jack?” “Yes!” the crowd roared back, drowning the prime minister’s answer. He plowed forward, vowing not to abandon the Union Jack but arguing that it should become “a symbol of our membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and of our loyalty to the crown.”

The audience had now reached a pitch of rowdiness that made it difficult for the prime minister to be heard. “You’re selling us out to the pea-soupers,” someone shouted. Came another: “God save Diefenbaker.” And another: “Keep the Red Ensign.” And yet another: “Go home!”

It was a taste of what was to come in the following months. Though it might be difficult to believe today, both Pearson’s proposed design of three red maple leafs and two blue bars at the side (see above), and the red-and-white design adopted later in 1964 by a parliamentary committee, were greeted with a torrent of hateful comments.

“The new flag looks like a fancy dish rag,” one North End resident wrote to the Winnipeg Free Press. “I suggest that [the prime minister] have the Houses of Parliament moved from Ottawa to Montreal to complete the picture of ‘surrender’ as the flag indicates,” wrote a reader from Winnipeg’s West End.

The heated comments that appeared in newspapers around the country were, at least, fit enough to print by the standards of the time. Many other letters containing more crude comments flooded the prime minister’s office, as well as those of every Member of Parliament.

In 1986, John Ross Matheson, an Ontario Liberal MP who led the 1964 parliamentary committee charged with finding a new Canadian flag design from among the many serious and not-so-serious public submissions, included in his memoirs* a selection of letters the public sent to Parliament Hill, illustrating how controversial the idea of a new flag was.

From Victoria, B.C.: “Please discard the new flag and do it quickly. When the flag is in a drooping position it (especially in the large sizes) will look like a bed sheet with menstruation stains on it, and our Canadian flag will be laughed at all over the world.”

A June, 1964 letter: “Your ‘pushing’ of that three maple leaf abortion is, I feel, just another of your efforts to play up in any way you can to that narrow-minded, ignorant, impossible bunch of crazy Quebec extremists . . . The more those ignorant, priest-ridden Quebec extremists get, the more they want and will want.”

From a Presbyterian minister in Montreal: “. . . I earnestly deplore design of projected new flag as pagan and a flat rejection of Canada’s Christian heritage. The glory of the Union Jack is the union of three Christian Crosses. How unworthy, how unfeeling to replace so inspiring a symbol with one reminiscent of a hockey team or an Indian tribe.”

From Val Caron, Ont.: “I will never salute a flag forced upon me. I am not a worm but a teacher.”

From Orillia, Ont.: “You have turned us in on ourselves like an onion growing in a paper bag, puny and smelly. You have yielded our heritage to a rabid minority. The dreadful indictment I lay on you as a mother of Canada. You are a Judas and, like Judas, the sooner you retire the better.”

From Toronto: “Your new Canadian Flag is just a disgusting, disgraceful disguise. It is a disgrace to the country. As you, Pearson, are known as a communist sympathizer — so is your new flag — it stinks from communismus — Moskow [sic] is the place for you and your flag.”

Yet despite the rancour of the time, the flag quickly grew on Canadians, rendering the passionate feelings of 1964-65 little more than a faded memory. Whether they preferred a new design in 1964-65 or wanted to retain the Red Ensign, life just calmly went on for Canadians once the decision was made — as it so often does after the conclusion of a brutal political battle, no matter how loud the cries of impending doom by partisans on both sides.

Fifty years on, it is safe to say that the flag that some vowed never to salute turned out to be a flag that has served us well — and will continue to do so for many years to come.

* – John Ross Matheson, Canada’s Flag: A Search for a Country (Belleville, Ont.: Mika Publishing, 1986)

The other “hidden city” trick that could shave $100 or more off your airfare

Many people had never heard of SkipLagged.com until news broke in January that United Airlines and the Orbitz travel web site were suing Aktarer Zaman, SkipLagged’s 22-year-old founder, for damages. Zaman’s sin in the eyes of the industry: to create a search engine that takes advantage of the fact that airlines often price connecting flights cheaper than non-stop flights. As a feature in The Economist explained:

At the time of writing, Delta’s cheapest one-way fare from Atlanta to Cincinnati on February 6th is $252. However, to get from Atlanta to Dallas-Fort Worth with a connection through Cincinnati—on that same initial flight—costs just $197. This is because Delta is the only airline to fly direct from Atlanta to Cincinnati, which are both Delta hubs, and so it can charge what it likes. Two other airlines, meanwhile, operate flights between Atlanta and Dallas. This limits Delta’s pricing power. For anyone wishing to fly to Cincinnati, therefore, the best bet is to book the connecting flight and walk out of the airport in Cincinnati (the “hidden city”), simply failing to show up for the second half of the trip.

But, there are strings attached to using SkipLagged. All of your baggage must ride in the cabin with you, as any checked baggage will be tagged to your final destination. Return trips must be booked separately, as going AWOL anywhere en route will automatically cancel the rest of your reservation.

And if anything goes wrong, such as overbooking or a cancellation forcing the airline to rebook you, they will only help you get to the city you’ve paid to be flown to, not to the hub you were planning to duck out at. So, the hypothetical passenger above planning to sneak away at Delta’s Cincinnati hub could be in trouble if Delta automatically rebooks him on a nonstop flight to Dallas instead, or on a flight via the Minneapolis/St. Paul hub.

There is, however, another version of the “hidden city” trick that could work well if you do wish to check your baggage. This involves booking a legitimate round-trip between your home airport and your intended destination, plus an onward future flight from your home airport that you have no intention of taking.

Consider the following example of a hypothetical Winnipeg-London round trip, departing on the randomly chosen date of July 11 and returning on July 24. It’s not a particularly cheap itinerary as you can see, at a price of $1,714.83.

YWG_LHR_1715

But check out what happens if you make a multi-city booking, taking the same flights from Winnipeg to London and back again, and adding an onward July 25 flight from Winnipeg to Calgary, a market in which Air Canada competes head-to-head with British Airways. Yes indeed, the total price actually drops to $1,603.08 — a saving of $111.75. Having collected your luggage 20 hours earlier in Winnipeg, just don’t show up for the July 25 Winnipeg to Calgary flight.

YWG_LHR_1603

This technique might also be useful for booking one-way flights in foreign lands, as well as for Americans looking to escape the extortionate fares that both U.S. and foreign airlines charge for international flights. Nonstop flights from Chicago to London, for example, currently sell for $2,471 (Cdn.) round-trip on the same July 11-24 dates noted above. Tacking on a July 25 flight from Chicago to Calgary via Denver reduces the price to $2,167 Cdn., a handsome $304 saving.

Cheaper still: making two separate bookings, one for a Chicago-Toronto July 10-25 round-trip, and the other for a Toronto-London July 11-24 round-trip, for a total of $1,877 Cdn. Even with two nights in an airport hotel factored in, the savings could easily amount to $400 per individual, or more than $900 for a couple sharing a room.

But before you do book such an itinerary, check out these cautionary words from the same Economist article quoted above:

. . . [S]ince most airlines’ conditions of carriage expressly forbid the practice, people who do it often enough to attract the company’s attention can have their frequent-flier accounts suspended, miles voided and any elite status revoked.

To search for hidden city itineraries for yourself, see Google Flights.

Too many beds, too few bums?

The former Carlton Inn, with the Winnipeg Convention Centre visible in the background. (Source: Google Maps)

The former Carlton Inn, with the Winnipeg Convention Centre visible in the background. (Source: Google Maps)

When CentreVenture Development Corp. bought out the Carlton Inn in downtown Winnipeg in 2013, it was expected that the lacklustre property would be demolished and replaced by a “signature hotel” of up to 300 rooms around the end of 2016.

As 2015 gets under way, there is little more than a vacant lot where the Carlton Inn once stood, adjacent to the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg, which is in the midst of a major expansion — and no specific plans for what should be built on that lot.

As the Winnipeg Free Press noted Saturday, construction of such a hotel would be expected to take two and a half years, meaning that the original target of a late-2016 opening will be overshot by at least a year.

Yet, as political pressure increases to “get the job done”, care must also be taken to step back and consider what the effect of adding, say, a 300-room hotel to the Winnipeg market might mean to the overall health of the local hospitality industry.

In a 2014-15 industry outlook released last September by PKF Consulting Canada, which specializes in analysis of the hospitality and tourism industries, it was noted that the Winnipeg market is expected to have the lowest average per-night guestroom revenues in 2015 among the 13 major Canadian markets examined: $76 per room-night, 20 percent lower than the Western Canada forecast of $95 per room-night.

This calculation, known in the hotel industry as revenue per available room, or RevPAR, is based on dividing the total revenues extracted from the renting out of a hotel’s rooms on a given (or average) night by the number of rooms available for rental, regardless of whether or not those rooms were occupied. It is a basic measurement of a property’s health and productivity, but it does not include revenues from out-of-room services such as restaurants.

With occupancy rates expected to average out to about 60 percent, Winnipeg is also expected to have the lowest percentage of occupied rooms over the course of 2015 among the 13 markets examined in the report.

This news sends a signal to hoteliers that, compared to other large Canadian cities, Winnipeg is not hungering for new hotel capacity.

Indeed, the expansion of the Convention Centre could be seen as justification for the hotel industry to sit on its hands instead of adding additional rooms, hoping that more visitors will push occupancy rates up five or ten percentage points, bringing fatter profits for all and putting smaller players like The Marlborough in a better position to invest in upgrades. Then, if Winnipeg’s average occupancy rates start to hit 70 percent or revenues exceed $100 per room-night, then the industry could start questioning whether there’s a shortage of rooms at peak times.

Alternately, we could go ahead and build a large hotel next to the Convention Centre, adding perhaps 100,000 annual room-nights to the Winnipeg hotel market. The construction would be good for some: for the Convention Centre certainly, as well as for the tradespeople needed to undertake such a grand project. But if new visitors don’t come to Winnipeg with the same alacrity, there is a risk that adding so many hotel rooms could cause occupancy rates and average revenues per room-night to fall even further. That could leave Winnipeg’s hotel market looking downright sickly.

Globalized world stuck with parochial airline rules

Imagine you’re one of a still small, but growing, number of global road warriors. You’re based out of Vancouver, but have business to do in London and Tokyo, and wish to make things as simple as possible by doing it all in three hops, taking nonstop flights.

On the surface, this should be easy enough to arrange. London is British Airways’ global hub, and Tokyo serves the same purpose for Japan Airlines. Both belong to the Oneworld airline alliance, one of three that purpote to offer seamless worldwide connections, and both fly from their respective hubs to Vancouver, so booking a Vancouver-London-Tokyo-Vancouver trip should be a piece of cake, right?

Not necessarily. Oneworld, like the other two alliances, offers suggested itineraries and even a few package deals; but you cannot book directly through the Oneworld site; you must deal directly with a member airline.

An amusingly bad Tokyo-Vancouver routing suggested by the Oneworld web site: Fly from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Osaka,  then fly back to Tokyo, landing at the less-central Narita airport this time, then fly to Vancouver. (Click to enlarge.)

An amusingly bad Tokyo-Vancouver routing suggested by the Oneworld web site: Fly from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Osaka, then fly back to Tokyo, landing at the less-central Narita airport this time, then fly to Vancouver. (Click to enlarge.)

Fair enough. So you try booking online with British Airways, but come to a dead end because their web site won’t let you book a nonstop Tokyo-Vancouver flight on Japan Airlines, despite being alliance partners. BA’s web site demands that the Tokyo-Vancouver leg be via London Heathrow, a journey of more than 24 hours.

Then you try making the booking with Japan Airlines, but get no further because their web site requires that your first leg be from Canada to Japan.

Frustrated, you check out your options on Google Flights, and find out that, ironically, the only way to reserve all three flights on a single booking is to book through the American Airlines web site — rather counterintuitive, given that your itinerary neither involves ever stepping aboard an American Airlines flight, nor setting foot in the United States.

Even once booked, your hassles aren’t necessarily over. Prefer an aisle seat for those long flights? Even within an alliance, airlines might have drastically different seat-selection policies, and almost all require that seats be arranged through their own web sites or call centres. Hate waiting in line to check in? Sorry, but many of those computerized airport kiosks still tell you to go find an agent to personally get you checked in, as the software can’t handle bookings made through other carriers’ reservation systems.

The airlines know this is a clunky and exasperating way of doing business, and some within the European Union have merged while retaining nominal national brands. British Airways and Spain’s Iberia, for example, might look like two different airlines; but both are really divisions of the London-based International Airlines Group (IAG). The same applies to Paris-based Air France-KLM, which owns the French and Dutch airlines which go by those names.

But among the airlines that have their hubs in other global business capitals, not only has little consolidation taken place — it’s not even allowed to happen.

Although the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has acknowledged that laws restricting foreign ownership of domestic airlines are of questionable relevance today, Canada remains one of many countries whose laws are based on the assumption that foreign ownership of an airline, no matter how sterling the foreigners’ reputation, is somehow a bad thing. As the Canadian Transportation Agency notes on its web site:

The CTA requires that air carriers operating or proposing to operate a domestic air service be Canadian unless they obtain an exemption from the Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities . . . With respect to a corporation, partnership, proprietorship or other legal form of business enterprise: It must be incorporated or formed under the laws of Canada or a province; At least 75% of its voting interests must be owned and controlled by Canadians; and it must be controlled in fact by Canadians.

But Peter Davies, a former Air Malta CEO notorious for referring to his own troubled airline as “crap”, is pitching a solution. In an interview published Jan. 8 on Skift.com, a travel industry news site, he suggests that smaller airlines in different countries keep their national identities on the surface, but merge their back-office operations:

[Davies] proposes a “hotel management style, where airlines have maintained their brand but the whole back office is managed by the management company.” The hotel management company would be invisible to passengers. The airline’s customers would experience the local airline brand, not a chain identity. But the national carriers would benefit from the same cost advantages of their larger competitors.

“Your back office costs, your revenue counting, maintenance, aircraft purchasing, insurance—all these expensive ticket items would be transferred [to the management company] which yields economies of scale,” Davies says. “That company takes on a percentage of the fixed-costs basis of these smaller flagship airlines, which would make a significant difference in terms of profitability. The key is to make sure you maintain the brand. I do believe fervently in the brand, particularly for a destination airline.”

Though Davies promotes his idea as a means by which to save small national brands — the same week as one such carrier, Cyprus Airways, bit the dust — it raises another possibility: adapting this model to finally allow the Star, Oneworld and Skyteam alliances to become to global air transport what Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and Sheraton have become to lodging; namely, a global network of regionally owned franchises.

Under such a model, it would be possible for airlines to respect the foreign ownership laws of their respective countries. Unlike in the hotel industry, it would even be possible to keep the planes painted in national colours and the flight attendants in the same uniforms that they wear today.

But the pricing and marketing functions, the policies on such things as baggage allowance and seat selection, the fee structure, the product offerings and innovations, and the reservation systems would all become merged and run out of Star’s Frankfurt headquarters, Oneworld’s New York City headquarters and Skyteam’s Amsterdam headquarters.

Thus, if you were to fly Oneworld’s British Airways from Vancouver to London, and then on to Tokyo, and then fellow alliance member Japan Airlines from Tokyo to Vancouver, it would be the truly seamless experience that the airlines had in mind when they began forming alliances in the ’90s.

It’s a move that would make sense in a world that’s more internationally mobile than ever, though some carriers with excellent reputations in their own right, such as Star Alliance member Singapore Airlines, might rightly resist any tarnishing of their brand.

Yet the airline industry is also closely tied to nationalist sentiments, and can end up taking a bashing by politicians for not being reverential enough to these sentiments, as British Airways painfully learned when it tried removing the Union Jack from the tails of its aircraft years ago. That alone might be enough to slow any progress down.

No city for old men

Normally, Saturday night is this blogger’s Dinner at the Pub night, but the city’s extreme-cold warning — an air temperature of -28°C, with a northwest wind producing a wind chill of -38°C (-36°F) at 8 p.m. — and the beeping of snow-clearing vehicles in the dark outside can destroy the resolution of even the hardiest Winnipegger to venture outdoors if you’ve got all that you need indoors.

Naturally, one’s thoughts venture toward such things as “Whatever possessed humans to live in such a place?” and “If we were truly free to choose where we live — no employment considerations, no family considerations — would this be the place?”

So, with time on my hands, I decided to do a bit of sleuthing to figure out how Winnipeg compares to other cities in terms of holding on to its 55-to-69 year olds: people who are old enough to retire (or take early retirement) and move elsewhere without being hindered too much by employment, family or health limitations.

The chart below, based on Statistics Canada population data, shows the net number of 55-to-69 year old interprovincial migrants in 2012-13 for every 1,000 55-to-69 year olds living in each metropolitan area as of July 1, 2012. Indeed, the hideously cold prairie cities saw the highest rate of outmigration to other provinces: Winnipeg’s rate of -2.8 per thousand was slightly higher than Saskatoon’s -2.5 per 1,000 but somewhat lower than Regina’s -4.5 per thousand. (Saint John, New Brunswick, once ignominiously listed as one of the Top 8 worst places to move to in Canada, also had a fairly high defection rate despite its more coastal setting.)

Many Ontario and Quebec cities also finish on the negative side of the chart, with outmigration rates to other provinces of -0.1 to -1.4 per thousand. Perhaps surprisingly, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières, Que. drew in slightly more 55-to-69 year olds from other provinces than they lost. Though Moncton, Calgary and Edmonton attracted more people than they lost from this age group, Victoria and Kelowna remain the strongest draws for retirement-aged Canadians, with net inflows of +3.7 and +6.9 per thousand respectively.

No city for old men

Source: Statistics Canada CANSIM tables 051-0056 and 051-0057. Click to enlarge.

 

But don’t feel too bad for Winnipeg. A net outflow of Winnipeggers aged 55 to 69 years could have some perverse benefits for Manitoba’s health care system. As British prime minister David Cameron made a recent pledge to crack down on Europeans migrating to the U.K. allegedly to take advantage of British health care and social services, Spain was reported to have its own problems with British retirees, which they have some obligation to provide care for under the terms of the European Union, placing a burden on their health care system. Like those British pensioners who have traded in life in Old Blighty for one on the Costa Blanca, migrating Winnipeg retirees could also take a bit of pressure off of Manitoba’s hospitals and nursing homes — but at a cost to our western neighbours.

What “vote efficiency” might mean to Manitoba in 2015-16

The 2011 Manitoba election was, based on seat counts, a huge win for Premier Greg Selinger’s NDP, which won 37 seats, far greater than the 19 seats won by Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen’s Progressive Conservatives. Yet, if you look at the popular vote, it was a fairly close election, in which the NDP won 46 percent of the vote and the Progressive Conservatives won 44 percent.

It would be correct to say that the difference between these two pairs of numbers can be attributed to Manitoba’s first-past-the-post electoral system, in which voters choose only one MLA for each of the province’s 57 electoral districts, and whoever gets the largest number of votes wins, no matter how far short of a 50-percent-plus-1 majority.

But there is another factor that many followers of Manitoba politics might have heard of, but not be too familiar with: vote efficiency.

As the name suggests, this refers to how readily each party’s share of the vote translates into seats. The first chart below shows the relationship between the NDP’s share of the vote and its seat count in each Manitoba election held from 1958 to 2011.* (Elections prior to 1958 were held under a different electoral system in which some districts elected only one MLA, while others elected multiple MLAs.)

Vote Efficiency NDP

As the chart suggests, there has traditionally been a very close relationship between the NDP’s share of the vote and the number of seats it wins. Generally, if the NDP wins more than 40 percent of the vote, it wins a majority of the 57 seats in the Legislature. Hence, one will occasionally hear political analysts commenting on the efficiency of the NDP vote: additional votes translate into additional seats.

The provincial Liberal vote has historically been fairly efficient, though less so than the NDP vote. Due to the efficiency of the NDP vote and the reliability of the Progressive Conservatives’ rural southern Manitoba strongholds, the Liberals would likely need to have both opponents’ vote collapse simultaneously to form the first Liberal government since Premier Douglas Campbell left office in 1958. But if they win more than 20 percent of the vote, they could win enough seats to force a PC or NDP minority government, or lower the threshold at which the Progressive Conservatives can win a majority government into the low-to-mid 40-percent range.

Vote Efficiency Liberal

The Progressive Conservative vote, by contrast, is fairly inefficient: between 1958 and 2011, less than half of its seat count can be explained by the percentage of votes won. Part of this is due to their tendency to win thumping majorities in rural southern Manitoba, such as in Morden-Winkler, where PC candidate Cameron Friesen won 86 percent of the vote in the 2011 election. Since this huge surplus of votes cannot be dispatched to other constituencies, the Progressive Conservatives depend to a larger extent on how the other two parties split the vote. They are most likely to prevail if the Liberal vote is high enough to hold the NDP vote below 40 percent, or both the Liberals and the New Democrats run weak campaigns.

Vote Efficiency PC

This dynamic bodes well for the Progressive Conservatives in the next Manitoba election, expected to take place in 2016. The NDP won 46 percent of the vote in 2011, and could only afford to lose no more than six percentage points to be re-elected to a fifth consecutive majority government: a tall order for a 16-year-old government beleaguered by both a controversial sales tax increase and a caucus in a state of civil war. Their hopes of winning a minority government also seem remote, being reliant on both their own party winning about 35 percent or more of the vote and the Liberals winning more than about 20 percent of the vote and enough seats to hold the balance of power.

This could explain why the race to lead the NDP into the next election is between three veteran MLAs: Premier Greg Selinger (first elected to the Legislature in 1999), former Jobs and Economy minister Theresa Oswald (2003) and former Infrastructure and Transportation minister Steve Ashton (the dean of the Legislature, first elected in 1981). Even if the government’s re-election outlook is grim, holding the premiership for even a year is an opportunity that will likely never come again after so many years in public life.

For current Jobs and Economy minister Kevin Chief, however, the incentives are likely quite different. Some were surprised by his decision to take a pass on the leadership race despite being the party’s front man at so many public announcements in 2014 that he was beginning to look like a man being introduced to the public as a premier-in-waiting.

But being only 40 years old and still in his first term as an MLA, a run for the top job now would put him in the awkward position of having to defend the government’s record as an incumbent premier in the 2016 election, and likely result in him becoming an ex-premier at just age 42. If he does indeed crave the premiership, his interests might be best served by letting a party veteran hold the job for the time being, winding down his or her political career after the 2016 election having at least briefly held the honour of being Premier of Manitoba before handing the job over, as almost assuredly will happen no matter who leads the NDP, to PC leader Brian Pallister.

This would leave Chief free to seek to lead the NDP into the subsequent election, by which time he would still be a relatively youthful 46.

By that point, vote efficiency might be working in his favour. To win a second term, the Progressive Conservatives will need either a relatively strong Liberal Party holding the NDP below 40 percent of the vote, or the support of close to half the electorate to give them enough votes to win the tight races in addition to their huge majorities in the rural southern constituencies. If a slip in Progressive Conservative support and ongoing Liberal weakness allows NDP support to recover to 40 percent or more in a 2020 election, then the NDP’s vote-efficiency advantage could allow them to win a majority of seats, even if the PCs win the popular vote by several percentage points.

Cue the calls for vote reform, atypically from the right, if that happens.

 

* – In the 1958 and 1959 elections, the NDP was known as the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and the Liberal Party was known as the Liberal-Progressive Party. Both had changed their names by the 1962 election.

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