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COMMENTARY: New Tory leader will have a lot to juggle

Tory leader Hugh McFadyen announced on election night, Oct. 4, 2011, he'll be stepping down as head of his party after the Tories took another beating at the polls, the fourth straight since 1999. 
(Brook Jones, QMI Agency)

Tory leader Hugh McFadyen announced on election night, Oct. 4, 2011, he'll be stepping down as head of his party after the Tories took another beating at the polls, the fourth straight since 1999. (Brook Jones, QMI Agency)

BY TOM BRODBECK, WINNIPEG SUN

FIRST POSTED: THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2011 08:11 PM CDT

Whoever leads Manitoba's Progressive Conservative party into the next general election in 2015 is going to have a lot of healing, babysitting and ego management to juggle over the next four years with the amount of political infighting going on in the party right now.

Tory leader Hugh McFadyen announced last week on election night he'll be stepping down as head of his party after the Tories took another beating at the polls Oct. 4, the fourth straight since 1999.

McFadyen had no choice but to immediately announce his resignation after leading a disastrous campaign that failed to return a single former Tory riding back to the Conservative fold.

The Tories needed 10 seats to win government on top of what they had. They were targeting 18 during the campaign. They won none of them.

Losing is bad enough. But it's how the Tories lost and what central campaign was telling candidates during the race that has caused such an uproar within the party.

It's no secret by now that many Tory stalwarts are infuriated with the party's decision to make a sharp turn to the left during the campaign, vowing to outspend and out-borrow the governing NDP, while virtually ignoring the hot-button issue of Manitoba's violent crime problem. It's a strategy that failed miserably and one many believe alienated the Tory's core supporters.

It's left some long-term Tories wondering what their party stands for and where it's headed in the future.

But the ideological shift during the race is only one part of the problem for Tory brass.

Campaign teams were told in the days leading up to election day that the Tories had as many as 31 seats - enough for a comfortable majority - in the bag, based on the party's internal polling. The party was counting on solid victories in former Tory ridings such as Southdale, Kirkfield Park and Seine River, some campaign teams were told.

What's more, central campaign insisted they had a good chance of winning longtime NDP ridings such as Radisson, located in the east end of the city.

The predictions were pitifully inaccurate.

NDP incumbent Bidhu Jah won Radisson handily by 1,445 votes. And none of the targeted ridings changed hands.

Veteran campaigners will always tell you that no matter what your overnight polling tells you, you always campaign like you're one vote behind until the very last day of the campaign. The Tories didn't do that. They thought they had victory in the bag and were content to run out the clock in the final week of the campaign.

The fallout from all of this is an orgy of finger-pointing within the party, with some candidates blaming central campaign, rural MLAs accusing the party of abandoning its roots, and many saying McFadyen did little to nothing to counter the smear campaign the NDP launched against him.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact the party has made no progress in its efforts to return to government since it lost office 12 years ago. The NDP now has a stranglehold on the Manitoba political landscape and the Liberals have dropped to single-digits in Manitoba for the first time in modern political history.

Which explains the deep-seated acrimony within Tory ranks.

Whoever replaces McFadyen will to have to contend with that bitterness and infighting, which isn't going away any time soon.

It will probably get worse before it gets better.