The 2016 Manitoba election and the fight against austerity


1. The Tories have won a majority government with 53.4% of votes cast. The increase from the 44% the Tories won in 2011 was more a matter of NDP unpopularity than enthusiasm for Pallister. What's most noticeable is the huge decline in the NDP's vote, from 46% in 2011 to 25.6%. The Liberal vote rose from 7.5% in 2011 to 14.2%.

2. During the election campaign the Tories didn't openly proclaim their intention to bring in far-reaching austerity. Yet that's almost certainly what the new government is going to do, probably justifying its actions as necessary because of a supposed "deficit crisis" inherited from the NDP. 

3. A lot of people will be surprised by what the new government does. Even more will be upset and opposed to its attacks, including people who voted Tory in both urban and rural areas. This discontent can be tapped to build active opposition to the austerity agenda.

4. If active opposition isn't built, most people who don't like the new government's actions will conclude that nothing can be done except vote to defeat the Tories in the 2020 election. Experience in other provinces tells us that this is dangerous. It means that there won't be much of a fight to stop harmful government measures or a strong challenge to the idea that "There Is No Alternative" to neoliberalism. Such a political climate will help the Tories' chances of winning again in 2020.

If the NDP wins in 2020 in such a climate, it's very unlikely to reverse much of what the Tories have done while in office (remember that after the NDP won office in 1999 they didn't reverse the privatization of MTS or repeal the Tories' balanced budget legislation, and that what the Tories are going to try to do this time will probably be much worse than what they did under Filmon in the 1990s).  

4. Efforts to build active opposition to austerity will be starting from the very low level of activism that exists in Manitoba today. But they won't be starting from nothing: pockets of activism in union locals and on campuses, the ongoing indigenous resurgence and efforts that bring low-income people together in some Winnipeg neighbourhoods can all be seeds from which protest and resistance can grow.  


5. One-off demonstrations are important. But they won't be enough to stop attacks by this government. What's needed is grassroots organizing in communities and workplaces that tries to build a movement against austerity. The best strategy for fighting austerity is working to build a movement powerful enough to do in Manitoba what students and others did in Quebec in 2011-12: organize against unpopular government policies, mobilize broadly and create a political crisis that forces an election and the defeat of the government. That's a goal we should aspire to.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Solidarity Winnipeg.


Join us this Saturday to share your thoughts:


After the Election: What Next for Social Justice?

Event page HERE.

2 p.m., Saturday, April 23

The Hive, University of Winnipeg

Corner of Ellice and Balmoral

*Free childminding provided.
*Venue is accessible and bus ticket reimbursements provided upon request.

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  • Darren Lezubski
    commented 2016-04-20 12:55:01 -0500
    Mr. Camfield, thank you for your article. I would disagree with your assertion that there is a “supposed” deficit crisis. The data is quite clear, provincial government deficits have been consistent for several years. Moreover, these deficits have been growing despite increasing government revenue due to tremendous growth in government spending. And it is important to note that yearly deficits cannot be attributed to infrastructure spending, something the Selinger NDP government consistently tried to mislead people into believing. Deficits reflect spending on government operations; infrastructure spending is based upon debt financing.

    Secondly, you argue that “…what the Tories are going to try to do this time will probably be much worse than what they did under Filmon in the 1990s”. Based upon what evidence do you make this claim? I would respectfully suggest you remain open minded to all possibilities available to move this province forward rather than retain a narrow, ideological lens which blurs reality.

    Finally, I am not sure how you define “austerity”. I suspect you and I would differ on what that term means. But, while we may disagree on what we consider “austerity” I think we both agree that grassroots organizing is a useful and powerful tool for engaging citizens and encouraging a thriving, civil and respectful debate and discussion on the issues and opportunities facing our province.

    Darren Lezubski

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