Although the next provincial election in Manitoba is slated for October 2023, Premier Pallister appears committed only to staying until the COVID-19 crisis is resolved.
"I'm committed to seeing [the pandemic] through," Pallister said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "Never say 'whoa' in a mud hole."
The decision comes amid declining support for the governing Progressive Conservative party, which has fallen lower than support for the Opposition NDP for the first time since the Tories took office back in 2016.
A poll which surveyed 1,000 Manitobans in late November/early December found that four in 10 (41 per cent) of decided leaning voters polled in recent weeks said they would vote for an NDP candidate in a hypothetical election, compared to 37 per cent of respondents who said they'd vote for the Progressive Conservatives. This is a six percentage point drop in popularity since polling done a few months ago.
Findings by Probe Research suggest the fall in support was caused by a perception that the provincial government was not handling the pandemic sufficiently, or were delaying action. Scott MacKay, president of Probe Research, also added that Pallister's political style may have also contributed to the decline. "The way he communicates, I think he has a very … severe kind of approach, and I think he can be very intimidating to people sometimes," MacKay said.
The gap between PC and NDP support is not the same everywhere. In Winnipeg, the PCs have only 30% of support, compared to 46% for the NDP. Declining support is also greater among women, having fallen to 29%. By contrast, 46% of men still prefer Pallister. Lastly, the decline may have been simply caused by being "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"The governments of the right, like the Pallister Conservatives, aren't really purpose-built for these kinds of pandemics and these kinds of crises," noted MacKay. "I think it's hard for conservatives to really open the treasury wide and, you know, to restrict people's freedoms and other things." For much of autumn, Manitoba had the highest per-capita rate of new infections in all of Canada. The total number of deaths has also increased from 20 at the start of October to 500 by the middle of December.
Concerning the findings, Pallister has said "...I don't care about polls, I care about Manitobans."
However, if polling doesn't improve, the Premier may be forced to step down amid pressure from his fellow Tories. "Perhaps if the party continues to plummet … then you might see more open signs of restlessness and insistence that something has to change before the next election," said Paul Thomas in a CBC interview, a former professor of political science at the University of Manitoba.