Manitoba's four main party leaders went head-to-head in a televised debate Friday evening, a week and a half before voters go to the polls on Oct. 4.
NDP Leader Greg Selinger, Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen, Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard and Green Party Leader James Beddome debated major issues — including hospital waiting times, crime reduction and economic growth — during the 50-minute broadcast, which aired on CBC and other TV networks.
Selinger, McFadyen and Gerrard have faced off at several debates during the campaign, but Friday's event marked the first time Beddome was allowed to join them on stage.
Beddome promoted his party's "bold new ideas" and long-term vision for Manitoba, but he also took shots at Selinger and the other leaders.
"You know, at one point there was a party that was out there that used to promote new ideas like public universal health care," Beddome said. "That's not today's NDP. That's the Green Party of Manitoba."
Pulled no punches
None of the four leaders pulled any punches, especially when each could direct one question to another.
McFadyen, Gerrard and Beddome mainly went after Selinger, whose party is seeking a fourth term in government.
"You've had 12 years. You've offered nothing new in terms of ideas in this campaign. All you've offered is dishonest, negative attacks on [former PC premier] Gary Filmon, on other people who have had the temerity to disagree with you," McFadyen told Selinger.
"I think people would respect you if you would take responsibility for breaking four out of the [NDP's] five promises and offer something new and better for the future," he added.
Selinger snapped back by saying the NDP has made "significant progress" on everything it has promised while in government.
"Don't pretend that things have gotten worse. They've gotten better," Selinger said to McFadyen.
"Manitobans are optimistic, they see a bright future, and only your doom and gloom, your imitation of the grim reaper, is what's holding us back. And you know it."
Deficit numbers not clear
McFadyen and Gerrard referred to the NDP government's budget deficit, although Gerrard argued the size of that deficit is not clear.
"We don't even know which deficit you're talking about because you use sort of funny phoney NDP numbers to confuse people, quite frankly," Gerrard said.
Selinger accused Gerrard of voting with the Tories in June 2010 to make major budget cuts that Selinger said would have resulted in health-care workers, educators and police officers being laid off.
"I certainly don't support cutting back on the health care, and if I voted that way it was a mistake," Gerrard responded.
"I think there were a lot of other issues that were involved in that budget in that particular time."
Friday's debate was the last before advance polls open on Saturday. Election day is Oct. 4.