They say dogs can smell fear.
Well, the hounds must have been howling this weekend after Winnipeg Free Press readers saw the latest opinion column from the city's King of Fake News, Dan Lett, who has suddenly realized his hopes and dreams may be swirling down the toilet.
Just over a week ago U of M political scientist Paul Thomas wrote a column advising the NDP of the preparations needed to take power from the Conservatives who have been badly trailing the New Democrats in the polls for months.
Keeping with the same theme, two days later, Lett wrote that all those polls, especially the one showing a "remarkable" 20-point lead in Winnipeg for the NDP, "suggest the coming election is his (NDP leader Wab Kinew's) to lose. "
But by week's end, in a column dripping with flop sweat, Lett was putting distance between himself and his political hero. And it put a new light on his interview with Kinew.
"Manitoba government bets big on nurses’ forgiveness" was the headline on Lett's column of Feb 18, 2023.
"Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government announced Friday it is pulling out all the stops to retain and recruit public health-care nurses, with a $123-million package of incentives."
"After being ignored and bullied for years, will nurses forgive the PC government, accept the incentives being offered and return..." wrote Lett.
But among the expected cheap shots at the government, Lett fired an arrow to the heart of the NDP's hopes.
"It may be exactly the right plan, but it may have come at precisely the wrong time." The right plan? The Conservatives are implementing the right plan? The Conservative government is doing what the NDP will be promising 8 months from now? Imagine the mass fainting in NDP quarters.
In less than a week Lett had gone from declaring the NDP was a sure-thing to win the provincial election to undermining the NDP's chief election issue, health care. What happened?
We decided to re-read his interview with Wab Kinew with fresh eyes. And were we astonished.
The questions asked of Kinew could have been plucked straight out of the Black Rod analysis of the Kirkfield Park byelection.
Where pundits and political scientists were focused on how close the election was, with PC candidate Kevin Klein winning by 160 votes, we looked closely at the vote count for each party. Klein received roughly 3000 fewer votes than were cast for the Conservatives in the general election. But none of those votes went to any of the Opposition parties!
The NDP tally was 581 below their vote in 2019, a drop of 20 percent.
Was over-confidence in an NDP victory why people didn't show up to vote, Lett asked Kinew.
The NDP declared Kirkfield Park would be a referendum on health care. But even their own voters didn't believe the party could do a better job. Without health care as an issue, we said, the NDP is essentially a one-trick pony with endless harangues about aboriginal issues.
Were people reluctant to elect a "premier of First Nations heritage?" asked Lett.
Leader Wab Kinew will be running with the albatross of unresolved domestic assault charges from 2003 around his neck, we wrote.
Lett wrote: "It will not help that the PCs will be hammering hard on Kinew’s personal history before he entered politics and, in particular, his run-ins with the law". Kinew wisely dodged the question.
But it was something else we said that leaped out at us. Was this the game-changer?
"Heather Stefanson has proved to be a terrible leader for the PC's," we wrote only two months ago. We may have to eat our words.
The press, pundits and political scientists have agreed en mass that the long string of P.C. MLAs who will not be running for re-election is a sign of non-confidence in a faltering party. And yet, we noticed, NDP leader Wab Kinew was silent whenever a new name was added to the list, leaving the gloating to the other commentators.
It wasn't until we looked at the big picture that we might have discovered an explanation why. And did the NDP backroom figure it out before us?
Has Heather Stefanson used the magicians' trick of misdirection to reconstitute the Manitoba Conservatives and rebuild a shattered party under the noses of the 3P's (press, pundits and poli sci profs) without detection?
Brian Pallister left behind a broken party when he resigned as Premier, leaving as the most hated man in Manitoba. He saw himself as a strong leader guiding the province through the Covid pandemic, but as soon as he slipped on the shiny jackboots he started his despotic reign by thinking he had a mandate to crush all opposition to his dictates.
He made a big mistake attacking churches in southern Manitoba. Stefanson has never feared the NDP in the south; the threat was the rise of a new Party or independents who would damage the P.C. image throughout the province.
And the libertarian side of the Party wasn't forgetting how Pallister ran roughshod over the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association without listening or explaining why and how long he was suspending freedom.
While the 3P's are fixated on the number of caucus members who are not seeking re-election, Stefanson is looking to running at the head of a New Conservative Party, with fully one-third of caucus being new faces with no connection to Pallister or the Party under him.
And they are coming with a new platform - more money for schools, for hospitals, for health-care workers, for personal care homes, for housing, with tax cuts (their rebate to the education property tax) AND a balanced budget.
The dogs can smell the fear in NDP circles and in the Winnipeg Free Press newsroom.