As they tour the province making joint appearances at party meetings, the four declared candidates going into the March 30 Manitoba NDP leadership convention are walking a fine line. After the stunning March 8 defeat of NDP Premier Howard Pawley’s government on a nonconfidence motion, and Pawley’s subsequent resignation, the contenders dutifully pay homage to their former leader. But the candidates are also facing a challenge from Manitoba’s resurgent Conservatives in the April 26 provincial election, and in varying degrees they are gradually distancing themselves from Pawley’s record. Said Urban Affairs Minister Gary Doer, who declared his candidacy last week: “I recognize there have been mistakes.” Doer, 39, is widely regarded as the front-runner. But some New Democrats have said that he may not be completely loyal to the party. First elected in 1986, Doer was often critical of the NDP while he was president of the Manitoba Government Employees’ Association between 1979 and 1986, and he once called the Pawley government “whitewine Socialists.” His principal opponent is likely to be Agriculture Minister Leonard Harapiak, 45, a grain and beef farmer from Swan River in western Manitoba. The other declared candidates by week’s end were Community Services Minister Maureen Hemphill, 51, a seven-year veteran of the Pawley cabinet, and former municipal affairs minister Andrue Anstett, 41.
But as the NDP concentrated on its leadership campaign, the Liberals— and party leader Sharon Carstairs, who held the party’s only seat in the last legislature—were making a strong early showing in the polls. One opinion survey showed Carstairs and her party in second place with support from 32 per cent of decided voters. Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Gary Filmon remained well ahead with 48 per cent, while the leaderless New Democrats had 19 per cent. But NDP supporters claimed that the published results of the poll, conducted by prominent Winnipeg-based pollster Angus Reid, were unfair because they did not show how the party might do if the favorite candidate of those polled was chosen party leader. But the NDP clearly faces a tough fight to get out of third place— regardless of who becomes the leader.
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