Manitoba's political parties pitched promises to fight crime on Tuesday, shortly after a writ of election was issued for a provincial vote slated for Oct. 4.
With Greg Selinger's New Democratic Party vying for a fourth term in power, the Opposition Progressive Conservatives and Liberals attacked the NDP on Tuesday over the issue of crime.
Biker gang activity heated up in the province this summer, while Statistics Canada declared Winnipeg as having the highest rate of violent crime in the country.
"We're number one in violent crime, in robberies, murder and attempted rape. For the past 12 years, Greg Selinger and the NDP have just rolled over and accepted this unfortunate distinction," PC Leader Hugh McFadyen told reporters on Tuesday.
The Tories and Liberals are both promising to spend $4.6 million to tackle crime, albeit in different ways.
The Progressive Conservatives are pledging to create a gang database, track high-risk offenders, and provide more funding to police and prosecutors.
Liberals pledge preventative measures
The Liberals are promising to spend their $4.6 million on preventative measures, such as more funding for local community centre programs.
"When you deal with gangs, crime has already happened. We're dealing with it in the opposite end," said Roldan Sevillano, the Liberal candidate in Winnipeg's Tyndall Park riding.
"You know, we're dealing smart — we're tough on crime, but smart on the solutions."
Meanwhile, Selinger defended the NDP's record on crime, noting that Winnipeg's crime rate has actually declined recently.
"We've already put 257 more police officers out there, but we'll go beyond that to make sure crime is not attractive for young people," Selinger told reporters at an NDP rally.
"We won't let people be drawn to crime by the opportunities we provide for them."
The NDP government has funded inner-city recreation programs before, by giving $1.3 million to the Neighbourhoods Alive program two years ago. But Sevillano said that amount of money is not enough.
"We need to put more," he said. "$4.6 million, I believe, is the money that we need to put [in]."
First fixed-date election
Earlier on Tuesday, Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee dissolved the Manitoba legislature as a writ of election was issued.
But while the campaigning is now officially underway, the unofficial election campaign has been underway for weeks, as Manitoba faces its first-ever fixed-date election.
The NDP formed government in 1999, when Gary Doer defeated former premier Gary Filmon's Progressive Conservatives following a decade of Tory rule through the 1990s.
Provincial constituency boundaries have been redrawn for this election, and a large number of incumbent candidates have retired or announced they will not run again.
Last week, the Tories released their entire campaign platform, promising they would not sell off the Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro utility. The Tories also said they would lower personal income taxes, introduce a child-care benefit, provide a permanent $500 home renovation tax credit, and take until 2018 to eliminate the province's structural deficit.
The NDP released a vision document last week that talks about continuing momentum in key areas that include jobs, health and education, Manitoba Hydro and public safety.
The Liberals focused on crime and public safety issues but also promised to relax Sunday shopping laws. Montreal-area Liberal MP Justin Trudeau campaigned last Thursday with Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard.
At dissolution, the NDP held 36 of the 57 seats in the legislature, the Conservatives 18 and the Liberals one. Two seats were vacant. All parties, including the Green Party, are expected to run a full slate of candidates.