Volunteers from Manitoba political parties are reaching out to voters this weekend as the parties ramp up their machinery leading up to the provincial election this spring.
And the nice weather has some already pounding the pavement.
All three parties with MLAs in the legislature — the Liberals, New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives — say their volunteer numbers are growing and outreach work is underway well in advance of election day on April 19.
Elections Manitoba says it expects the writ to be dropped — in other words, for the official election period to begin — sometime between March 15 and March 22.
However, campaign volunteers are not waiting until March to go door-to-door and speak with voters.
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"I thought this is a good opportunity to combine something I may believe in and get some good exercise out here in cold Manitoba," said Don Kozun, who is volunteering for the Liberals.
Kozun said when he heard that Peter Chura, a former Global TV anchor in Manitoba, would represent the Liberals in the Seine River constituency, he decided to volunteer for a political party for the first time.
"As we all know, here in Manitoba it's been somewhat of a two-horse race … but I'm certainly getting the feeling that there's people out there looking for an alternative and a lot of support on the phone," he said.
Liberal supporters say they hope to build on momentum from the party's gains at the federal level, as well as recent opinion polling numbers suggesting the provincial Liberals are in second place behind the PCs.
However, the Progressive Conservatives say they're not focusing on any perceived surge in Liberal support.
"It's fluid. I think that support is temporary. Whether it's sustainable, we'll see," said PC spokesperson Michael Richards.
"We're going to focus on our agenda and our game plan moving forward."
The PCs say they have 54 out of 57 nominated candidates to date, and its "volunteer numbers are growing daily."
The NDP has had volunteers doing outreach work for "several months already, and the total number will continue to grow until election day," a party spokesperson said in an email.
The party, which is seeking an unprecedented fifth term in government, has nominated 31 candidates to date.
Nomination meetings will be held in the coming weeks in the Radisson, Seine River, Southdale, Kewatinook and Brandon East constituencies, the NDP spokesperson said.
Challenges ahead for Liberals, says pollster
A Probe Research poll conducted in December suggested the Liberals had 29 per cent support, placing the party in second place behind the Progressive Conservatives at 43 per cent, while the NDP came in third place with 22 per cent.
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"Those progressive voters that used to be comfortable with the NDP — it's not like they've turned right-wing or anything. They are just tired of the government and they are looking for a new voice on the centre left," Probe Research president Scott MacKay said Friday.
"If you look at our polling, you can really see the extent to which former New Democrats have gone directly to the Liberals. Like, they're not going anywhere else. They are just going to the Liberals."
However, MacKay added that the Liberals may face challenges in this campaign compared to the NDP and the Tories, which he said have established election teams.
"The problem with the Liberals is that they've been dormant so long that they don't really have anything you could call a machine," he said.
"They have a huge head start, those two major parties in Manitoba, and the Liberals — sort of moribund all these years — are going to have to build the machine, and that includes volunteers and candidates and everything else. And I think that's a big uphill task for them."
Manitoba Party emerging
Meanwhile, a new political party that's focusing on extensive tax cuts hopes to make inroads during this campaign.
Led by interim leader Taz Stuart, the Manitoba Party's platform includes a promise to cut the provincial sales tax to five per cent from eight. The party also says it would institute a flat income tax of 10 per cent to replace current progressive tax brackets that top out at 17.4 per cent.
The Manitoba Party also says it would scrap the province's business payroll tax, which brings in hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
The aim, says party president Gary Marshall, would be to leave taxpayers and businesses with more money to boost the economy and create jobs.
MacKay warned that getting any new political party off the ground is generally difficult.
"We've seen it in the past, like the Progressive Party, a schism of the NDP in the 1980s. It even fielded a full slate of candidates in the provincial election, but it really was unable to break through," he said.
MacKay added that the Manitoba Party would have to be a "progressive left party" if it wants to attract left-wing voters who don't want to want NDP this time around.
"From what I can see, this is not a progressive left party. This is an anti-tax, tax cut, more of a right-wing kind of party," he said.