- Politics in Manitoba: Parties, Leaders, and Voters
Full disclosure: I know the author from two academic conferences and a still unpublished review I wrote of this book for Canadian Ethnic Studies. The spotlight in that review was on what the book told us of the interplay of ethnicity and party politics in Manitoba. The attention in the present review might be to the book's contribution to Canadian letters. In recent decades, provincial politics have garnered increased attention as the academic community has grown and specialized studies have proliferated. Journalists have also contributed with the appearance of biographies of successful provincial regimes and significant provincial politicians such as Elijah (the Harper of Meech Lake fame) by Pauline Comeau. Forthcoming too have been autobiographies by politicians such as Duff Roblin's Speaking for Myself and Sharon Carstairs's Not One of the Boys. Feeding interest in provincial politics has been the explosive growth of the provincial state, which delivers most of the social programs and physical infrastructure that Canadians demand and expect.
Prince Edward Island and Manitoba are the two provinces that have received the least attention by academics, although W.L. Morton's now half-century-old magisterial Manitoba: A History once commanded a special status among provincial histories. The contribution of Christopher Adams's book, much less ambitious, shines light on the three provincial parties: the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP (and its Labour-CCF predecessors). By offering chapters on the parties' histories, Adams does the student of Manitoba politics a service because the literature on the Conservatives and Liberals is sparse. Two parties that have also had representation in Manitoba's legislature, Social Credit and the Communists, receive virtually no attention.
The author is more of a political scientist of the behavioural persuasion with a quantitative orientation than he is a historian. Drawing on his work as the research director for a firm that conducts survey research, Adams presents data gathered between 1999 and 2007. They reveal the socio-demographic and attitudinal bases of partisan support. The Conservatives, as in federal politics, do better among male and rural voters than among women and those in large cities. Pronounced NDP support comes from women, the poor, and northerners. Businesspeople and those in senior managerial positions gravitate disproportionately to the Conservatives, while the NDP is more attractive to middle-income [End Page 518] earners and those in lower-status service and labour occupations. A good number of voters in both the Conservative and NDP camps support the federal Liberals, but the chronic weakness of their provincial kin, who hold only two of fifty-seven legislative seats, leads these voters to vote strategically, to cast their lot with the two dominant provincial parties.
Adams underplays the ideological polarization of the party system. The NDP's website, for example, asserts, 'We wish to create a society where individuals give according to their abilities, and receive according to their needs,' and, 'Our society must change from one based on competition to one based on cooperation.' Some Conservative leaders in the past, still employing the rhetoric of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, have accused the NDP of propagating an alien ideology imported from nineteenth-century Europe. Nevertheless, the NDP has held office in each of the last five decades and Manitobans no longer fear the socialist bogey.
Adams's survey data may date very quickly, but the geographic and ideological contours of Manitoba politics that they highlight have been remarkably persistent over the years. Influenced by the work of V.O. Key, the author focuses on what he considers 'critical elections' that mark a significant disjuncture with the past in the electorate's preferences. Adams concludes by presenting a generic schema that incorporates long-term influences, such as historically important events and long-standing values, and short-term influences such as the dynamics of a given election campaign. This book is a useful workmanlike contribution to the small but growing bookshelf devoted to Manitoba politics.
Nelson Wiseman, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto