Early election or not, Manitoba's political parties working to get candidates in place

Manitoba's three main political parties have engaged in a flurry of candidate nominations lately, as speculation swirls about a possible early election call.

NDP election planner wants candidates in place by late May, 'just so that we are ready'

An exuberant Brian Pallister enters the Progressive Conservative election victory party in April 2016 with his wife, Esther. The province's next fixed election date is in 2020, but there's been speculation Pallister may call the election earlier. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

With the speed at which Manitoba's political parties are nominating candidates, you'd think an election was coming.

Eighteen months away from the province's next fixed election date, the governing Progressive Conservative party has already nominated half of its slate of candidates.

And just this week, the Opposition New Democratic Party picked its first two candidates, and the Liberals announced nomination meetings for their four MLAs.

The parties seem poised for an election as early as this spring, mused Paul Thomas, a retired political scientist from the University of Manitoba.

"I think it's been prompted by, as I say, the premier's speculation that he might go early," Thomas said.

Signs of spring election

There's credence to the "spec-election" talk, as Brian Pallister likes to call it — he hasn't ruled out an early election, for one.

He's insisted the fixed election date of Oct. 6, 2020, is not set in stone, but rather the last possible date that ballots can be cast. 

Pallister told reporters earlier this month, without being asked, that he wouldn't hold an election during a "flood watch."

Speculation is also fuelled by the fact his government cut the provincial sales tax by one percentage point a year earlier than expected, and his party is nominating candidates in quick succession.

Polling numbers released by Mainstreet Research Friday appear to show Pallister's Progressive Conservatives have a steady lead in popular support, with the NDP edging up since January.

The poll, conducted between March 21-24, found just shy of 45 per cent of decided and leaning voters support the PCs (an increase of 0.2 per cent from January polling), with the NDP trailing behind with 32.1 per cent (up 4.1 per cent from January).

The Liberals have 13.1 per cent support (down 3.9 per cent), according to the poll, and the Manitoba Green Party rounds out the four parties at 6.7 per cent support (up 2.1 per cent from January).

The poll also found none of the leaders of the three largest parties have a positive favourability rating — the difference between respondents who have a favourable and unfavourable opinion of the leader.

The poll says 45 per cent of respondents had an unfavourable opinion of Pallister. Thirty per cent had a favourable opinion, and the remainder of respondents were unfamiliar with Pallister or said they were unsure.

For NDP Leader Wab Kinew, 31 per cent of respondents had an unfavourable opinion, and 29 per cent a favourable opinion. Twenty-one per cent had an unfavourable opinion of Dougald Lamont, and 14 per cent a favourable opinion.

The poll surveyed 810 Manitobans through automated telephone interviews using "smart IVR," or interactive voice response.

A randomized sample of this size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 3.44 per cent, 19 times out of 20. 

PCs have nominated 28 candidates

Whether or not any of that points to a 2019 election, the New Democrats aren't wasting any time.

"We're looking to get everyone in place, probably before the end of May," said Ellen Olfert, co-chair of the party's election planning committee, "just so that we are ready whenever the premier decides that he's going to call an election."

She said the party would be making preparations at this stage regardless of whether or not the election will be called earlier than 2020, but the end of May deadline is one of her own making.

"And with the groundswell of anger around health-care issues and education issues coming up, it's a good time to get candidates and volunteers working," she said.

The Tories began a flurry of nomination meetings in mid-January by acclaiming 13 of their MLAs to carry the party banner once again. Since then, the party has doubled its roster of candidates to 28 in the province's 57 constituencies.

Among them, Jon Reyes will represent the renamed Waverley constituency in Winnipeg, while Andrew Smith shifts from Southdale to the new Winnipeg riding of Lagimodière.

Audrey Gordon ran in a hotly contested Fort Rouge race in 2016. She's been nominated to run for the Progressive Conservatives in Southdale in the next election. (CBC)

The party's candidates are all sitting MLAs, except for Audrey Gordon in Southdale and Nancy Cooke in Fort Garry.

Gordon, the PC's representative in the hotly contested Fort Rouge race in 2016, works as director with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's home care program. Cooke, a business owner who sought a Winnipeg city council seat last fall, is a former campaign director for the Tories. 

The party has had a "very aggressive" nomination schedule because it had to wait until the process of redrawing riding boundaries concluded in December, said PC Party CEO Keith Stewart.

Normally, the party would have a few candidates in place two years from an election, he said. That couldn't happen this time around.

"We had to wait until that review took place, so we have a little bit of catch-up to do."

The updated provincial electoral boundaries in Winnipeg. The city becomes larger geographically, in the eyes of the Manitoba Electoral Divisions Boundaries Commission, because the communities of Headingley and West. St. Paul are now included. (Manitoba Electoral Divisions Boundaries Commission)

He wouldn't entertain questions about whether a potential early election is influencing the nomination process. 

"We don't have any control here in this building over when that [election] might happen, so we just want to get ready."

Next month, Tory members will acclaim Scott Johnston in place of the ousted party member Steven Fletcher in Assiniboia and James Teitsma in Radisson.

The only contested nomination for the PCs so far is in south-central Manitoba's Borderland. The renamed electoral division is currently represented by Cliff Graydon, who was kicked out of the PC caucus last year.

Party members will choose either Josh Guenter, Verna Heinrichs, Liz Hildebrand or Jordan Siemens as their next representative.

2 NDP nominees so far, Liberals plan meetings

The NDP nominated their first candidates this week: longtime MLA Jim Maloway in Elmwood, and former Brandon city councillor Lonnie Patterson, who will try to reclaim Brandon East from the Tories.

Meanwhile, the Liberals announced nomination meetings in April to acclaim their sitting MLAs. 

Leader Dougald Lamont is running unopposed for the St. Boniface nomination on April 23, and Judy Klassen, who flirted with running federally, is expected to be acclaimed for Kewatinook on April 24.

We don't feel the need that we have to run out and make sure we have a warm body.- David Engel , Manitoba Liberal Party vice-president

The week after, the party will nominate Cindy Lamoureux — in Tyndall Park rather than the Burrows riding she now represents — and Jon Gerrard in River Heights.

David Engel, Manitoba Liberal vice-president, said his party isn't rushing its nomination process.

"We don't feel the need that we have to run out and make sure we have a warm body," he said. "We'll get the right people and we'll have strong candidates in every constituency.

"We don't feel the need to rush unless it's forced on us."

Retired political scientist Paul Thomas thinks the NDP and Liberals would have to scramble if an election is called before the fall. (CBC)

Thomas said the opposition parties have no choice but to call themselves prepared, especially if they fashion themselves as a government-in-waiting.

He thinks the NDP and Liberals would have to improvise if the election comes after the flood threat subsides, but before the summer.

"They will try to have candidates run in all 57 constituencies, but they'll be creating a campaign on the run," Thomas said.

"It'll be made day-by-day, in panic mode, probably."

Nominated candidates as of March 29:

Progressive Conservative Party:

  • Agassiz — Eileen Clarke.
  • Brandon West — Reg Helwer.
  • Fort Garry — Nancy Cooke.
  • Fort Richmond — Sarah Guillemard.
  • Interlake-Gimli — Derek Johnson.
  • Kildonan-River East — Cathy Cox.
  • Kirkfield Park — Scott Fielding.
  • La Verendrye — Dennis Smook.
  • Lac du Bonnet — Wayne Ewasko.
  • Lagimodiere — Andrew Smith.
  • Lakeside — Ralph Eichler.
  • Midland — Blaine Pedersen.
  • Morden-Winkler — Cameron Friesen.
  • Portage la Prairie — Ian Wishart.
  • Red River North — Jeff Wharton.
  • Riding Mountain — Greg Nesbitt.
  • Riel — Rochelle Squires.
  • Rossmere — Andrew Micklefield.
  • Seine River — Janice Morley-Lecomte.
  • Selkirk — Alan Lagimodiere.
  • Southdale — Audrey Gordon.
  • Springfield-Ritchot — Ron Schuler.
  • Spruce Woods — Cliff Cullen.
  • St. Vital — Colleen Mayer.
  • Steinbach — Kelvin Goertzen.
  • Turtle Mountain — Doyle Piwniuk.
  • Tuxedo — Heather Stefanson.
  • Waverley — Jon Reyes.

New Democratic Party:

  • Brandon East — Lonnie Patterson.
  • Elmwood — Jim Maloway.

About the Author

Ian Froese


Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email:


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