The incumbency factor

Twelve ridings up for grabs in upcoming election

  • The retirements of 12 veteran incumbent MLAs with will make the Oct. 4 election interesting, says Christopher Adams, a political scientist at the University of Winnipeg. – Dylan Hewlett

As Manitoba’s provincial election campaign gets underway, the retirement of 12 veteran MLAs may incite a conceivably closer election.

Over the last year, five Progressive Conservative candidates have announced they won’t be seeking re-election.

Another seven NDP veterans, including advanced education minister Diane McGifford and finance minister Rosann Wowchuk, have announced their retirement from politics.

That’s likely to provide interesting drama when Manitobans head to the polls on Oct. 4, according to Christopher Adams, a University of Winnipeg politics professor and vice-president of Probe Research.

When someone is familiar with the name of a local MLA, they have a tendency to vote for them. Likewise, when a candidate is new and unknown, there is a tendency not to vote for them, he said.

Adams calls this the incumbency factor.

“If someone like (Manitoba’s Conservation Minister) Bill Blaikie is not running, this might help the other party take the seat,” he said.

However, Adams adds that this is not the only factor worth considering.

“There are three elements to a local race,” he explained. “A race is influenced by who the leader of the party is, what the party brand is and who their local candidate is.”

Because of these three diverse factors, Adams believes electoral races will be substantially different in each vacant riding. In some ridings, residents will tend to vote for candidates before a party, in others they will consider the party first.

Jennifer Howard, the NDP candidate for Fort Rouge, says 12 retirements is hardly unusual.

“Ten to fifteen retire each election,” she said. “Public life is demanding and it is not unusual for families to want their loved ones back.”

Howard also believes retirement helps rejuvenate a government.

“You have fresh people coming in and turnover is important,” said Howard. “This keeps a government and party healthy.”

Adams agrees.

“Generally speaking, having people step aside means younger people can come in,” he said. “This can add some vitality to the party, rather than having a bunch of grey-haired old people.”

However, retiring MLAs create the threat of a closer election, Adams said.

“I would expect, with a different candidate, there would be a smaller margin of victory,” he said.

Howard also believes new candidates may be in for a greater challenge.

“There is an added challenge for people that are new to it,” she said. “However, these new folks have already been out for several months working hard for their seats.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 2, 2011)

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