They say a chicken with its head cut off can run the length of a football field.
Which brings us to the depressing news that former MP Brian Pallister is again musing about running to be leader of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party.
Ugh. What a disturbing sight. And yet, how apropos. Reach into the political graveyard for a someone to lead a party headed directly there.
Obviously some people haven't yet realized that the Tory Party is dead.
We don't say that rhetorically. We mean dead. Devoid of life. With no future---even if it continues to lurch forward for months or even years. After all, the Liberal Party of Manitoba continued to exist as a zombie party for almost 20 years until all that was left in 2011 was a disembodied head which just keeps rolling along.
The backroom geniuses who brought you Hugh McFadyen and the election debacle of '11 think the Party can be revived with a leadership convention. If you can graft a new head on the robust body you can turn the clock back and start fresh, goes the thinking.
Hugh McFadyen took care of that. His legacy is a party so discombobulated that a) it's impossible to pick a leader, b) the party is in such a mess it's impossible to lead, and c) the only road open for the poor sucker who gets to be called the leader is off a cliff. Thank you Hugh.
Let's start with the leadership.
The Conservative Party must have a leader from Winnipeg.
That's a cold, hard fact. More than half the population of the province lives in Winnipeg. If you want to be the government, you must have an intimate knowledge of the place where most people live and work. It doesn't get any simpler than this.
The Conservatives were elected in only four seats in Winnipeg and all three are clustered in the extreme south end of the city.
One seat, Fort Whyte, is held by Hugh McFadyen. Been there, done that, it was a disaster.
Another, Charleswood, is held by Myrna Driedger. First elected in a byelection in 1998, she's been around the Legislature too long to be a fresh face. Bonnie Mitchelson of River East has been around since 1986. McFadyen ran a one-man show and didn't allow any of his colleagues to shine, undercutting any patina of public confidence they might bring.
That leaves Heather Stefanson in Tuxedo. She too won a byelection, in 2000, replacing, of all people, former Tory Party leader Gary Filmon. At 41 she's the right age to represent a new generation in a reborn party. Although she's been an MLA only two years less than Myrna Driedger, most of her term has been in an age when the mainstream media has ignored the Legislature, making her fairly unknown to the public and therefore a new face, a new voice.
But did we say she's from Tuxedo? The bastion of wealth and privilege. The riding name alone alienates voters in the rest of Winnipeg. Good luck with translating that to support.
The alternative is a leader without a seat in the Legislature. There's nothing like leading the Opposition from the visitors' gallery to get people to take you seriously. Fighting for a seat with schoolchildren dragged to the Legislature as a lesson in civics. Tweeting questions to caucus members who actually sit in the House.
Unable to sit on committees. Begging reporters to quote you. Four years of humiliation, that's the ticket.
And, believe it or not, it gets better. The Conservatives might elect someone as discredited as Brian Pallister or Gord Steeves. You want to fuel public cynicism? Put these two in the race.
Pallister, you might recall, ran for election as a Member of Parliament, took his seat in a minority Conservative government, quit in 2006 to run for leader of the provincial PC's, leaving his party with even a thinner hold on power in Ottawa and forcing a costly and unnecessary byelection because he eventually decided not even to contest the Manitoba leadership.
Steeves ran for election as a city councillor in 2010, took his seat on council for a year, quit to run as a Conservative candidate for MLA in 2011, forcing a costly and unnecessary byelection as the voters rejected him. Yeah, that will rejuvenate the Conservative Party, a cheap conceited politician who plays the electorate for suckers for his own advantage.
Apart from the impossibility of picking a leader, there's the question of who wants the job anyway? What's the new leader going to tell the public? "Ha, ha, just kidding. You know all that stuff we said during the last election---you know, how we were going to outspend the NDP and go deeper into debt because deficits are good---well, we didn't mean it. Or we don't mean it now. Although we might mean it if you elect us because we did promise it."
Caucus members have already posted on their Facebook pages how much they support Hugh McFadyen and how grateful they are for his leadership in the 2011 election campaign. So how are they going to repudiate everything he said when the next election rolls around?
The Conservatives have just handed the NDP the keys to the treasury for the forseeable future. Newly elected Premier Greg Selinger can now spend the $1.3 billion the NDP promised to spend, plus hundreds of millions the Conservatives promised to spend. What, are the Conservatives now going to oppose the very spending they promised? Good job, Hughie.
Then, we get to c) on the list of Hugh's legacy---the future or lack thereof.
The Party embraced the future in 2007, but when it arrived four years later -- with the very Jets the Tories told us to dream we could get back -- Hugh McFadyen had moved on: into the past. He ran a campaign straight out of the Seventies, a promise a day under the overarching theme of spend, spend, spend, borrow, borrow, borrow.
Hugh McFadyen and the backroom boys are furiously spinning the results of the 2011 election. As the cliche goes, the operation was a success but the patient died.
In any other election, winning 44 percent of the popular vote would mean victory, they'll tell you. The Conservatives were only 7000 votes behind the NDP, they say. The campaign was a hit; the internal pollsters predicted 32 seats, so who knew? Next time, right?
What everyone knows is that the Conservatives lost the election and failed to win a single seat more than they had before the writ was dropped.
What's more, the complete confusion over where the Conservatives stand and what they stand for means that even if the public turns against the NDP over the coming four years, the Tories won't win the 10 seats they need to regain government. They haven't taken a seat from the NDP in three successive elections and have given up five.
By the next election, Greg Selinger will be 64. Unless he intends to be a Premier collecting an old-age pension, he will hand off the leadership of the NDP by then to a new generation and the NDP can present themselves as a renewed and refreshed government for reelection.
Any new leader of the Conservatives comes in knowing he or she is looking at four years in the wilderness followed by at least four more in limbo. In other words, the Tories are electing a caretaker leader, not a potential Premier, someone who will spend the next four years twisting this way and that to repudiate the 2011 election platform, while staring into the abyss.
And let's not overlook the wild card. Sooner or later someone from the Liberal Party in Manitoba is going to realize the golden opportunity just sitting there for the taking. Change the leader, change the name, a clean break with the dying federal party and a small shift to the right (not hard with the Conservatives staked out to the left of the NDP) and you start bleeding off voters from the Tories. What's your guess? We say conservatively 20 percent of the Tory vote would move.
Bleak as the picture is, the PC Party in Manitoba has one, and only one, chance to resuscitate its fortunes.
It's daring. It's bold (and not the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce way). And it's foolproof.
The Party has to.......
Oh, did you think we would give the solution away for free?
Uh uh. Or at least not yet.
The solution is time sensitive, and unless someone buys it first we will offer it up without cost sometime around the next provincial election when the magic formula loses its potency.
In the meantime, we offer a number of options:
* the Conservatives can buy it exclusively
* the Conservatives can buy first refusal, with half their money back if they don't like what they read
* in such a case, the solution will be up for sale to anyone else for half price, which will likely make it worthless to the Tory backroom because the secret will be out.
* any other political party can buy it to keep it out of the hands of the Conservatives.
* you wait, three or four years, and read it for free in The Black Rod and say "Hey, that would have worked."
If you were a headless chicken, what would you do?