Gary Doer calls May 22 election in Manitoba

Manitoba NDP Leader Gary Doer has formally dissolved his majority government and called an election for May 22, the Tuesday after the Victoria Day long weekend.

Manitoba NDPLeaderGary Doer has formally dissolved his majority government and called an election for May 22, the Tuesday after the Victoria Day long weekend.

"We have shown that Manitoba has changed," Doer told cheering supporters at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. "We have changed because we have become a can-do province, and we will continue to be a can-do province."

Doer, who has led the province since 1999, is seeking his third term as premier. The NDP holds 35 of 57 seats in the legislature, while the Conservatives have 18 seatsand the Liberals havetwo.

Denis Rocan, a Conservative MLA until he was kicked out of the caucus this week, is now sitting as an Independent. There is also vacant seat, Kirkfield Park, which had been held by the Conservatives until Stuart Murray, the party's former leader, resigned.

While making the election call, Doer touted major developments his government has brought to the province, from colleges to downtown office buildings.

"The endangered species of the building crane has been returned to Manitoba with some of our development," he said.

Doer's party won the 2003 electionwithalmost half of the popular vote, the largest percentage since 1915. At the time,Doer campaigned hard on a health-care platform, and it is expected health will be a critical issue again in this election.

Critical about health care

The opposition parties have criticized the NDP for failing to provide enough beds in Manitoba hospitals. The NDP has argued throughoutboth of its mandatesthat the previous Conservative government was to blame formaking cuts to health care thatthe party sayscreated theproblems in the first place.

Another hot issue in the election could be the government's role in the Crocus Investment Fund, which collapsed in 2005,resulting in a loss totallingmillions of dollars for the 34,000 Manitobans who put money into the fund.

The election is expected to be a tight race between the Conservatives and the NDP, especially for crucial seats in the southern areaof Winnipeg, such as Riel, St. Norbert and Seine River.

Those seats have beenheld by the Tories in the past, and party officialssay they're much better organized this time around than they were three years ago.

Poll suggests close race

A Probe Research poll conducted in early March indicated the NDP and Conservatives arein a dead-heat race,although other recent polls suggest Doer is one of the most popular premiers in the country.

Winning a third term in Manitoba has proven elusive for other Manitoba premiers. Conservative Premier Gary Filmon and the NDP's Ed Schreyer both lost power after two terms.

This will be Hugh McFadyen's first election as leader of the Conservatives.The rookie MLA was first electedin December 2005, and took over the party leadershipfrom Murray inApril 2006.

"The economy has been growing across North America, and Manitoba has not been keeping up,"said McFadyen, who argues that private-sector investment has lagged behind other provinces.

At the helm of the Liberal partyis Jon Gerrard, the only Liberal in the legislature from 1999 to 2003, before he was joined byLiberal Kevin Lamoureux of Inkster.

Gerrard launched his campaign Friday evening in front of a hospital that has struggled to address a physician shortage.

"(The NDP) has not been able to fix the problems that existed under the Tories," Gerrard said.

Andrew Basham leads the Green party, which hasnever elected an MLA.

Both the Tories and the NDP say theyexpect tospend about $1 million on the campaign. The Liberals expect to spend a record amount of money for the provincial party: $400,000.

With files from the Canadian Press