What's worse, the election campaigns or the media coverage ?
Quick. Somebody call Hugh McFadyen and tell him THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
There really is an election underway.
So far the suffering electorate has watched an Opposition that appears to be making it up on the fly mumble and bumble its way around a scandal-wracked government that's demonstrated its incompetence over the past 8 years.
And we don't know what's worse, the campaigns or the coverage.
The provincial Conservatives have had a year under new leader McFadyen to design a strong, focussed election platform. He was supposed to be the brains behind a slew of successful campaigns for other politicians and now, reins in hand, he would bring the hapless Tories in from the political wilderness.
Handed a short 34-day campaign, McFadyen has so far delivered "the 5 R's", a hodge-podge of unremarkable goals that's about as memorable as Spirited Energy, a photo of himself kicking a soccer ball, and---wait for it---radio ads.
Whoo hoo, radio ads. How 1950's. Expect him to take the train on the stump any day now.
The other day McFadyen was on Richard Cloutier's morning show on CJOB, the most-listened to show in the province. Asked what he would do to if elected to make Manitoba a more prosperous province, McFadyen announced that he would be making announcements in the days to come.
We're not making that up.
Given the opportunity of FREE AIR TIME to address tens of thousands of listeners, McFadyen passed. Later in the day, to an audience of two dozen reporters and party hacks, he promised to cut the provincial sales tax to six percent.
That got him 30 seconds as the fourth or fifth item on the 6 o'clock newscasts. What a media genius.
NDP leader Gary Doer announced that---wait for it---health care was the No. 1 priority for his party.
Astonishingly, not one of the reporters present challenged his credibility given the abject failure of the NDP to achieve their No.1 goal of the 1999 election--- eliminating hallway medicine in six months, not even after 16 months, or 60 months, or 66 months or six years.
Not a single question was asked about the pending closures of the Grace Hospital and Brandon General Hospital emergency wards -- which the NDP is propping up until after the election by paying huge sums to doctors willing to fill in for the emergency doctors who have left or are leaving the province.
Not a question as to why so many doctors are fleeing to greener pastures.
Instead, the mainstream election reporters parroted Doer's promise to train more nurses. Nobody asked how the NDP allowed the nursing shortage to triple from 500 in 1999 to 1500 a few years later, a shortage which is being whittled down a couple hundred nurses a year.
Nobody asked why the NDP is paying nurses full-time wages for part-time work which has created a culture of nurses refusing full-time shifts.
If you could collect a week's pay for three days work, with your choice of another shift or two per week at time-and-a-half or double-time, would you want a regular 8-hour, five day a week, shift?
If you could work 3 days a week, make enough money to put you in the top income bracket, and still make every weekend in the summer a long weekend, would you want a change in working conditions?
This has built an inexcusable inefficiency into the health care system which, in turn, means a reduction of surgeries, a shortage of hospital beds, and longer wait times for treatment.
The Tories discovered that the Winnipeg Health Authority alone has paid out $33.7 million in overtime costs to nurses since 2001.
No reporter asked Gary Doer about that.
No reporter has asked the Nurses Union about that.
Now you can understand why the nurses have been running round-the-clock ads shilling for the NDP for weeks. It's the least they can do.
Some members of the news media have even taken to running interference for the NDP.
While discussing the outrage in the community over the dismissal of the charges against the gang member accused of shooting Phil Haiart, a caller to Cloutier's radio show started to say we should hold politicians accountable for the gang problem in Winnipeg. Cloutier jumped in and launched into a rant about holding citizens accountable for their neighbourhoods, instead.
Obviously he didn't think an election campaign was the proper time to question the track record of the government that's been in power in the years the gangs have expanded and consolidated their power and extended their campaign of fear and intimidation.
He might have wanted to remind listeners how the NDP took office promising to take a "holistic" approach to gangs and asking the Justice Ministers, past and present, how that approach had turned out. But he didn't.
The news media did give us a look at the delicate sensitivities of Miss Erin, the NDP's own Southern Belle candidate for Southdale, and of the rest of the representatives of the gentler sex in the New Democratic caucus.
It seems Miss Erin, also known as Erin Selby, former model, former weathergirl, former CKY "reporter", swooned with the vapours when she saw a headline in the Winnipeg Sun that asked, about her, "Prop or Contender?"
She would have asked her husband to defend her honour by horsewhipping that awful Jack Reimer, the P.C. candidate, but that nice gentleman Mr. Doer stepped in and said he would unleash his attack dogs, also known as the NDP women's caucus, on Mr. Reimer.
"I find it offensive that (Reimer) would lash out in this way simply because he faces a strong woman candidate who has forced him to wage the political fight of his life," Status of Women Minister Nancy Allan sniffed.
Reimer's offence? He pointed out that Miss Erin's role in a Gary Doer news conference in her backyard seemed to be to stand around, look at her leader with affection, and look pretty. Doer even called the event "an announcement with Erin." AWWW.
The Winnipeg Sun pointed out she had "virtually no part" in the event and only spoke when the Sun asked her for a comment. Female voters, she said, "are excited to see a young woman running." Oh, and "I live in Southdale," she said. "I'm a young working mother."
Did we mention that Miss Erin is young. And Mr. Reimer is, well. old. Old, old. Old, not young, like Miss Erin.
Reimer, confronted with Miss Erin's indignation at being compared to a prop, confused the P.C. in his party's name for politically correct and apologized for saying what he said he didn't say. The ladies of the NDP went back to sipping their mind juleps and discussing whether Miss Erin should wear the pink dress or the lime green dress for her maiden speech. Oops. Tee hee. We said maiden. Sorry, Miss Erin. We meant no offence.
And the tempest blew over, but not before consuming one day of the 34-day campaign in which:
*The NDP is running as Conservatives on their record of cutting taxes.
*The Tories are running as Liberals, refusing to make crime an issue for fear somebody will blame the federal Grits for the lax laws that have allowed car theft and gangs to flourish and that will offend the Liberal voters Hugh McFadyen wants to attract.
* And the Liberals are running as independents, which is what they are.
The inadequacy of the news coverage is underlined by their inclusion of the Liberals in every newscast even though THE LIBERALS HAVEN'T BEEN A RECOGNIZED PARTY IN THE LEGISLATURE FOR THE PAST 15 YEARS.
There are six parties in this election - the main three plus Green, Communist and Freedom. Four have zero chance of forming a government. Yet one of them is treated as a legitimate contender when its clear that the two Liberal Party MLA's are nothing but two independents sitting together. We're just too polite to point out the obvious.
What's obvious is that voters are disgusted with politics and politicians.
To truly engage them, we need to offer an alternative vote on the ballot: NONE OF THE ABOVE.
This would ramp up the voter turnout because, for once, the electorate would get to register its dismay at the choices and go on the record that no matter who is elected, they DO NOT have the legitimate authority to govern as they wish.