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Frightening the Electorate

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09Feb

Politicians seeking power would better serve the public by outlining their policies and relying on their records and the truth. They should avoid frightening the electorate from voting for their opponents through unfair innuendos and the falsification of facts.

Following the American example, attack ads increasingly have been featured in both federal and provincial elections, but rarely in municipal bouts. The general absence of directed malice in municipal elections is because of a ‘general’ lack of party politics.

Manitoba’s provincial political parties have used attack ads to belittle or damage their opponents, increasingly the NDP has become the master of the genre.

While ‘hitting below the belt’ politics is ‘poor form’, doing so has worked. In this provincial contest, as was the case in their 2003, 2007 and 2011, the NDP has ‘carpet bombed’ the electorate with a noxious attack. The ‘scissors ad’ portrays the PCs leader as having slashed the public payroll in the past and would again. The ad features two particular claims that do not stand up on examination.

The NDP’s scissors ad continues to perpetuate a myth. The myth is that the Tories, last in power in 1999, almost 17 years ago, fired 1,000 nurses and 700 teachers. Neither claim is not even close to being accurate.

Firstly, the1988-1999 Filmon PC government did not “fire” 1,000 nurses. As to the Filmon government “firing” 700 teachers back two decades ago, that claim is also patently unfair and incorrect. As Winnipeg Free Press columnist Deveryn Ross correctly asserted: “In fact, the numbers of teachers actually increased by 30 when now-Opposition Leader Brian Pallister was a member of Filmon’s cabinet”.

 Back then, due to restructuring the healthcare system, nurses without mobility clauses in their collective agreements had to be laid off before being rehired in new positions. All but 33 of the 1,000 mythical fired nurses that the NDP keeps referring to were either rehired or retired.

During the 1990s, there was a fundamental shift in healthcare. Patients spent less time in hospitals and acute care beds, and more time in outpatient facilities and personal care homes. Between 1993 and 1998, the proportion of nurses working in hospitals across Canada declined by 5% while the share of nurses working in community health, personal care homes, and home care increased by 4%. A general reorganization was underway, not mass firings.

As to the claim that the Filmon government also fired 700 teachers, it again is a major falsehood. The NDP backed its claim by asserting that a 1996 legislative committee reported on the “cut (of) teachers”. Trouble is, there is no reference in that committee’s minutes to that claim. Again, I cite a Deveryn Ross column, this of February 2004: The fact is the Filmon government did not fire a single teacher … It neither possessed the legal power to do so nor directed Manitoba’s school divisions to do so”.

In the public interest, the NDP should stop employing fiction to scare voters into voting their way. Their opponents have stayed with the facts, both Liberals and the PCs. A reasonable degree of both civility and honesty needs to be restored to Manitoba’s provincial politics. The party that wins should triumph based on merit not lies and deception.

 

Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (www.manitobaforward.ca).

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