Manitoba·Analysis

Manitoba debate night wisdom: Keep your cash on the kitchen table and take a walk around a pond

In the only opportunity for all four mainstream Manitoba political leaders to hammer each other in the same room, no one scored a knockout punch. No one sustained a serious self-inflicted injury. No one managed to make a truly memorable zinger or commit a groan-inducing comedic fail.

More talking points than tipping points as 4 leaders hold their most damaging fire in only scheduled faceoff

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister holds up four fingers at Wednesday night's Manitoba leaders' debate. He mentioned 'money on the kitchen table' three times. (Mike Fazio/CBC)

If you take a drink every time Brian Pallister mentions "money on the kitchen table," you'd end up under your kitchen table.

The Manitoba PC leader's favourite fiscal analogy, which suggests people in the province prefer to pile up their wages next to a bowl of Corn Flakes instead of depositing them in the bank, made no fewer than three appearances during a fast-moving, 50-minute Wednesday night debate that proved to be somewhat less intoxicating than any political drinking game.

In the only opportunity for all four mainstream Manitoba political leaders to hammer each other in the same room ahead of the Sept. 10 election, no one scored a knockout punch. No one sustained a serious self-inflicted injury. No one managed to make a truly memorable zinger or commit a groan-inducing comedic fail.

Perhaps there was too much crosstalk for any party leader to be heard clearly enough to land a killer blow.

It's more likely Pallister, NDP Leader Wab Kinew, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont and James Beddome of the Green Party are all too committed to the very Manitoban cause of cautiousness.

Why did the Manitoban cross the road? To get to the middle, of course. And all four party leaders did their best during the debate not to stray too far from that dotted line.

Pallister, whose party has unleashed a series of social-media ads highlighting the disjunction between Kinew's accounts of his young adulthood and court records of the same events, did not utter a single word about the NDP leader's past.

Instead, the PC leader stuck to his somewhat folksy talking points, which don't just involve storing loonies on the surfaces of household furniture. Pallister suggested the most effective means of  ensuring Manitobans care about the environment is to walk them around a wetland.

"The best way to create an environmentalist is the way I think a lot of us became environmentalists and conservationists," he said during Wednesday's debate. "You can walk around a pond, go outside and experience."

He also largely — but not entirely — kept his composure as he served as the primary target for the other three leaders. This is no mean feat considering how much more comfortable Pallister appears to be when he's playing offence, not defending himself against attacks he's responsible for sluggish economic growth or health-care system hangups.

Participants in Wednesday night's Manitoba leaders' debate, from left: Dougald Lamont, Brian Pallister, Wab Kinew and James Beddome. (Mike Fazio/CBC)

Pallister also unveiled the only significant news of the evening when he suggested a re-elected Progressive Conservative party would balance the provincial books "two years early" — presumably, the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

That isn't an overly optimistic goal when you consider the projected deficit for this fiscal year is $360 million and could already be closer to zero if you reverse $347 million worth of accounting decisions the auditor general said last year raise "significant concerns"

The bottom line is Pallister didn't do anything on debate night to shed voters who already support his party. Likewise, NDP Leader Kinew didn't do anything to attract more voters to his own.

Mild-mannered Manitoba debate

Kinew, whose NDP is polling in second place, stuck to his months-long strategy of attempting to define the entire election as a referendum on PC changes to the health-care system.

"This election is about health care," Kinew said twice on Wednesday night, suggesting his talking points are just as worthy of belonging on a political bingo card as Pallister's kitchen-table quip.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew's favourite talking point: 'This election is about health care.' (Mike Fazio/CBC)

Kinew tried to put Pallister off his game by inquiring about the PC leader's whereabouts when he wasn't meeting with Manitoba Hydro board members. This appeared to be an attempt to evoke the spectre of Costa Rica without mentioning the nation's name. 

Again, no one wants to appear to be too mean on live TV. Certainly not here, in mild-mannered, milquetoast Manitoba.

Pallister declined to take the bait. And bringing up Hydro may not have been the wisest move for Kinew, who repeatedly struggled to explain the logic in his party's pledge to encourage Manitobans to use more electricity.

Liberal Leader Lamont chose to go after Kinew as well as Pallister. In his first televised all-leaders' debate, Lamont landed one strong blow when he asked Kinew to explain why he endorsed conservative fiscal policy in a magazine article four months before he joined the Manitoba NDP.

Lamont is attempting to outflank the NDP on the left while the Liberals languish in recent polls close to the Greens, who appear to be focused on winning a single seat in the Manitoba legislature.

Green Leader Beddome, who is running against Kinew in Fort Rouge, effectively sacrificed himself in his closing statement by making a plea for voters in Wolseley to elect Manitoba's first Green MLA. Beddome also made minor news by suggesting bars ought to be allowed to sell cannabis.

"We are missing a business opportunity for licensed establishments to serve marijuana products," Beddome said.

So there you have it: Keep your money on the kitchen table. Sell your cannabis in a bar. Take a walk around a pond and you will become an environmentalist. This election is about health care.

Taken out of context, it all sounds ridiculous. But so does answering a question with an unrelated talking point.

Watch the full debate:

Manitoba leaders debate 2019

3 years ago
Duration 50:03
Manitobans vote for their next provincial government on Sept. 10. The leaders of the province's four main political parties squared off in a live televised debate on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.

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