Why rural Manitobans vote Conservative

Rural voters in southern Manitoba overwhelmingly supported Conservative candidates in the federal election, but cracks in the blue base are starting to show.

Many made election decision based on economic growth, Richard Gray says

Farmers have seen strong prices for their products in recent years, which translates to little demand for change, economist Richard Gray says. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Southern Manitoba voters were thinking with their pocketbooks at the polling station, agricultural economist Richard Gray says.

While the Conservatives were shut out in Winnipeg in the federal election Monday, nearly all rural Manitoba ridings went blue, save the northern riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski.

"I think the best explanation is that rural Canada has gone through some pretty good years in the last decade; we've gone through a commodity boom," said Gray, who teaches at the University of Saskatchewan. "If you're doing well, you're not going to demand change." 

Beef prices have increased due to high feed prices and grain prices are up in part because of rising global demand. However, recent slowdowns in China appear to be dragging grain prices down. 

"Doing well not only happened in the grain sector — the beef sector had a few good years and the oil sector has done well, which has employed a lot of rural people," Gray said. 
In the 2015 federal election nearly all rural Manitoba voted Conservative. Only Churchill-Keewatinook Aski elected another party, the NDP. (CBC)

The Conservatives' promises to keep taxes low and continue with trade deals are important for rural Manitobans, he said, but it wasn't just economic issues that pushed people to vote blue. Values differ between the city and rural areas, Gray said.

"Rural reality is different than the urban reality when it comes to gun control," he said.

"I have to say that everybody has their own reasons for the way they vote. There is a lot of range out there."

Cracks appear in rural support

While rural Manitoba tends to be small-c conservative, espousing more traditional values than urban areas, cracks are beginning to appear in the base, said Kelly Saunders, associate professor in political science at Brandon University. 

"[In Portage-Lisgar, Brandon-Souris, and Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa] each of the incumbents won, but they won in some cases [with] lower numbers than they had in 2011, and then the Liberal vote astronomically (relatively speaking) increased," Saunders said. 

Still, for now, the Conservatives are wildly popular.

"We are still an agricultural community," she said. "The TPP was huge out here, hugely popular." 

Conservatives have a reputation in rural Manitoba for delivering a lot to their ridings, she said. 

"Mr. Maguire here in Brandon-Souris is the incumbent Conservative MP — he made about $19 million in announcements about two weeks before the campaign," she noted.

And the fact Stephen Harper is an evangelical Christian doesn't hurt in Manitoba's Bible belt. 

"Out in rural Manitoba religion does play a factor, because it informs people's values and how they look at politics," she said.

"So the fact that the Conservatives either directly talk about religious values … or indirectly, I think is much more important than we tend to realize."


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