For nearly 17 years, many rural Manitobans have felt left out when it comes to provincial politics. With votes and elected representatives largely coming from Winnipeg and the North, appealing to citizens and communities in the southern, agricultural region of the province has not been a priority for the NDP since Gary Doer led them to power in 1999.
It’s been unfortunate and short-sighted, but the NDP has fostered this urban-rural divide. Too often it’s been Winnipeg versus the rest. If there’s debate about a policy, project or a place to spend money that pits urban interests against rural interests, the NDP has usually sided with voices — often ill-informed — from within the City of Winnipeg.
Whether banning new hog barns, flooding farms around Lake Manitoba and south of Winnipeg, building power lines through valuable farmland or not upgrading rural highways and bridges, the bias toward urban voters has been painful for rural landowners and businesses. As a party, the NDP hasn’t shown an aversion to gaining urban votes on the backs of rural Manitoba.
Rural voters are hoping this changes after Tuesday.Unless the polls and pundits are terribly wrong, most rural Manitobans will have local Progressive Conservative MLAs sitting on the government side of the legislature for the first time since the 90s.
To be honest, the NDP hasn’t needed to rely on votes outside Winnipeg. Unlike the other prairie provinces with at least two major cities, over 50 percent of Manitoba’s population lives in one town.
For Brian Pallister and the Tories, it’s the opposite. They’ve always had strong support, but not enough votes to win the province in rural Manitoba. It’s the inroads in Winnipeg that are putting them in power. They’re being sent to the legislature by both urban and rural voters.
The PCs will have to manage expectations in rural communities. A Tory win won’t be a windfall for rural projects seeking provincial funding. They will have to balance urban and rural interests.
But that’s also what’s most exciting about this change for rural Manitobans. Regardless of political stripe or ideology, a government with a more diverse geographic base will hopefully take a more balanced approach to urban-rural issues, rather than pitting Manitobans against each other.