The leaders of Manitoba's four main political parties squared off in a televised debate at CBC Manitoba headquarters Tuesday night that touched on taxes, health care, the economy and poverty.
Green Party Leader James Beddome, Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari, Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister and NDP Leader Greg Selinger took part in the debate, which started shortly after 6 p.m. CT.
The leaders faced questions from a panel of journalists: the CBC's Chris Glover, Jeff Keele of CTV and Global's Lauren McNabb.
Moderated by Mary Agnes Welch of Probe Research, the 50-minute debate featured a discussion on health care, jobs, taxation and other issues.
Pallister pledges 'balanced platform'
The night got underway with a question directed at Pallister on criticism from other parties that a PC government would be focused on implementing austerity measures and cutting budgets and services.
Pallister said unlike the NDP, his party would work to find sustainable solutions to budgetary issues by cutting waste and administration costs, not front-line services.
"We're the only party actually presenting a balanced platform which involves finding savings within government as opposed to always going back, as the NDP does, to the kitchen table and saying, 'Pay more,'" he said, adding his government would be focused on "results" and lowering taxes, while improving services and strengthening the economy.
Pallister touted his experiencing working in team environments as a strong point, taking a thinly-veiled jab at the NDP over past inner-party turmoil. Five Manitoba ministers revolted against Selinger's leadership in 2014.
"We've seen what a lack of teamwork and camaraderie looks likely over the last number of months," he said.
The PC leader also refused to provide a direct response as to whether he would consider privatizing parts of the health-care system if elected.
Why vote Green?
Welch asked Beddome if voters should be concerned about whether a vote for the Greens won't affect the outcome of the election.
The Green Party leader said his party has been ahead of the curve in terms of same-sex equality policies, guaranteed annual income proposals and concerns over the cosmetic use of pesticides — all ideas Beddome says were later entertained in spirit or adopted on the policy level by the NDP government.
"We're the party of the future today, we're 10 years ahead," he said. "I am hearing from Manitobans over and over again that they're fed up with the other three parties…. I think it's time we put a new voice in the legislature and only the Green Party can do that."
Bokhari on 'principled' platform
Bokhari was asked about why Manitobans should have confidence in a Liberal government in light of its loss of a handful of candidates in the lead up to the election, and concerns from critics about policy promises being vague and lacking substance.
Bokhari said she is a principled leader and is the only one to take action during her campaign when a candidate in her party didn't "embody" the spirit of her party.
"We have demonstrated that unlike my opponents, I am able to make definitive decisions and stand by them," she said.
"Manitobans want a fresh voice, a party that recognizes the politics of possibility and not the politics of power."
Experience counts: Selinger
Selinger was asked why Manitobans should vote in another NDP government, after roughly 17 years in office.
Selinger said he has proven a strong leader during his term and demonstrated that when things didn't go right under his watch, he acknowledged and worked to improve issues.
"When you've been in government, you can actually learn and you can learn to do things better," he said. "I've been in every part of Manitoba … and when I listen to people, they tell us what they need …. Those are the priorities we've put forward."
Asked why the Liberals have maintained they would keep the controversial one percentage point PST increase in place if elected, Bokhari said it's the way the increase was instituted by Selinger, not the increase itself, that is the problem.
"Trust was definitely broken in that process," she said, adding the Liberals have committed to taking that one per cent PST increase, diverting funds generated to municipalities and letting them put it toward projects at their discretion.
Pallister chimed in, saying Selinger broke rules pushing the PST hike through in 2013 and isn't to be trusted with taxpayers' money.
Analysts weigh in
Analysts said they'd be watching the debate closely to see what the leaders had to say and whether any mud-slinging from the past few days would surface.
"The campaign has gotten a little bit nasty in these last couple of days," said Quito Maggi, president and CEO of Mainstreet Research.
Political scientist Royce Koop said he was surprised Selinger didn't mount a more aggressive offensive against Pallister during the debate, considering how things have gone in recent days.
In three days prior to the debate, Selinger said he thinks the PC leader is homophobic and unwilling to be honest with Manitobans about his finances.
Selinger revealed details of his 2014 tax return Sunday; Bokhari followed suit, unveiling parts of hers' from 2013 the same day. Pallister refused, calling it a desperate political "stunt" from Selinger in the final days of the election.
While Maggi said it's very uncommon "to have a knockout punch" and clear winner in leaders' debates, Koop added the Liberals and NDP didn't do enough to challenge Pallister and the PCs.
"The other leaders are far behind Mr. Pallister. If they wanted to knock down his lead, they had to take chances, they had to take risks and they had to go on the offensive," Koop said. "For the most part, besides the Green Party, we didn't really see that."
Catch up on what viewers thought about the debate in the blog below:
In case you missed it, CBC Manitoba recently hosted a weeklong series of televised and online candidates' forums. You can catch up on those debates here: