Manitoba's governing New Democrats are starting to prepare for the next election, although Premier Greg Selinger said Tuesday he has no intention of calling a vote any time in the next 12 months.
The provincial NDP council met last weekend and set out a list of rules for candidate nominations, paving the way for party members in all 57 constituencies to start picking their representatives.
Candidates must be approved by a five-member committee that includes former finance minister Rosann Wowchuk. Nominations can be overturned after the fact by the provincial executive.
Constituency associations will be expected to have money in the bank — an amount equal to 40 per cent of what was spent in their area in the 2011 election — although the party's election planning committee has the right to waive that requirement if needed.
The Opposition Progressive Conservatives have been preparing for an early election call and started nominating candidates last spring.
Selinger said he plans to stick to the province's fixed election date law, which says the earliest a vote can be held is October, 2015.
"The law is the law," Selinger said Tuesday, adding he has no plans to change the legislation.
The date under the province's Elections Act is not exactly fixed.
The law says an election must be held every four years on the first Tuesday in October, which would mean Oct. 6, 2015, in this case, unless the federal government has scheduled an election for roughly the same time.
A federal election is slated for the fall of 2015, so the provincial election is to be pushed back to April 19, 2016, unless the federal government changes its date.
A political analyst said he expects Selinger will not rush to call a vote, because the NDP is still trailing the Tories in opinion polls.
NDP support dropped sharply after the government raised the provincial sales tax last year, although recent surveys suggest the party's popularity is rebounding.
"Unless we get the Olympics in Winnipeg and their numbers skyrocket, it would seem like the oddest thing in the world," said Royce Koop, who teaches political science at the University of Manitoba.
One constituency that will be a challenge for the NDP is Riel in south Winnipeg. It's held by Christine Melnick, who was booted out of caucus after contradicting Selinger about a controversial immigration debate at the legislature.
Melnick said she was told to take the blame for the debate, which was criticized by the provincial ombudsman for involving civil servants, in order to protect Selinger.
She now sits as an Independent and has said she plans to run for re-election. She said Tuesday she is not closing the door on any possibilities, such as running as an Independent or vying for the NDP nomination.
Koop said it would be "almost impossible" for Melnick to be welcomed back into the NDP fold.
"When someone has burned bridges with the party leader to the extent that she has, I don't see how they can go back."
Melnick might split the NDP vote if she runs as an Independent, he added, but would also have a hard time retaining her previous support under the NDP banner due to her public rift with Selinger.