Manitoba's Progressive Conservative party is no longer sinking since its biggest anchor (former premier Brian Pallister) was thrown overboard.
And while the Tories are still sailing through shoals — with the NDP still strongly in place to win if an election were held now — they have bounced up from previous polling depths, according to the latest Probe Research omnibus survey on provincial party support.
The survey of 1,000 Manitobans, taken Sept. 7-20 — just after Pallister stepped down Sept. 1 and interim Premier Kelvin Goertzen was appointed by the PCs — shows the gap between the Tories and NDP has narrowed to seven percentage points from the high-water mark of 18 percentage points reported in a June survey.
"That has happened in a remarkably short time," said Probe pollster Scott MacKay. "The sinking has been stopped. Even with uncertainty as to who the next leader will be (the PCs are hold a vote Oct. 30), a lot of people have come back.
"It has to be what this was: Brian Pallister leaving."
Longtime Tory political strategist Barbara Biggar believes the shifting political fortunes bode well for the chances of the PCs in the next election, slated for 2023.
"There's no question the trending is heading in the right direction, and quickly," said Biggar, who has been a part of every Tory campaign dating to the days of leader Gary Filmon.
"When I see already we are back to a tie in the southeast of Winnipeg, and gained significant ground in others areas of the city, it looks likely to be a very competitive race in 2023."
Biggar said the numbers show Manitobans are responding to Goertzen's approach to interim premier.
"Manitobans like a quieter style of leadership," she said. "They like a quieter style, consultative, and mild conservatism. It is allowing the rebound to very quickly turn."
Political scientist Chris Adams, rector of St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba, said the numbers are coming back quickly for the Tories but they are still far behind.
"The NDP are up 11 points since the (2019) election and the Conservatives are down 12 points," said Adams. "If they went to the ballot box now, the PCs would be ousted right now."
MacKay said what's also interesting is the rise in poll numbers for the Tories is also occurring when the party doesn't have a permanent leader in place.
"I say this without any scientific information, but Goertzen has such a different style than Pallister, that it reminds people this is what we could have had," he said. "But they have a long way to go, but they are going in the right direction."
As for the NDP, while provincially there is now only seven percentage points separating it from the Tories, its strength in Winnipeg remains high.
The NDP has a 23 percentage point lead in the capital city, where more than half the province's seats are located.
Adams said these numbers don't bode well for Tory hopes at this time: "You can't win a provincial election without a good support in Winnipeg."
MacKay said women are powering the numbers, as they support the NDP over the Tories by a two-to-one margin.
Meantime, the PCs have popped up in three areas of Winnipeg, rising seven per cent (to 30 per cent) in the southwest part of the city; up 12 per cent in the southeast (to 38 per cent); and up 11 per cent in the northeast (to 32 per cent).
For the Liberal party, nothing much has changed. Across the province, Liberal support is at 12 per cent, compared to 14 per cent in June and 11 per cent in March. In Winnipeg, it has been a constant 16 per cent since March.
"Up until 10 years ago, we used to see the Liberals get more support between elections and then it dwindled before election day," said Adams. "We're not seeing that now. I think it is because people are already thinking whether they like the government or not and who to vote for."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said: "I cannot be governed by polls. We are getting candidates on board. We are fundraising. That's not going to change... What I see is a very strong anti-Pallister and anti-PC vote. People are desperate to get rid of the PCs."
Biggar said the Liberal numbers are a concern outside that party, too.
"They are absolutely flat," she said. "Conservatives always need Liberal numbers to be higher... There's no doubt the PCs are peeling straight off the NDP numbers.
"If I was Wab Kinew, I would be very concerned."
Probe said with 95 per cent certainty the survey results are accurate within plus or minus 3.1 per cent.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.