Manitobans go to the polls in provincial election

Manitobans are going to the polls today in an election that has the New Democrats seeking an unprecedented fifth majority government, but the incumbents are facing a strong challenge from the Progressive Conservatives.

CBC's live coverage of election results begins when polls close at 8 p.m. CT

PC Leader Brian Pallister, top left, Green Party Leader James Beddome, NDP Leader Greg Selinger and Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari. Voters in Manitoba head to the polls today. (The Canadian Press and CBC)
Manitobans are going to the polls today in an election that has the New Democrats seeking an unprecedented fifth majority government, but the incumbents are facing a strong challenge from the Progressive Conservatives.
Manitobans are going to the polls today in an election that has the New Democrats seeking an unprecedented fifth majority government, but the incumbents are facing a strong challenge from the Progressive Conservatives. 1:23

Polls opened at 7 a.m. CT in the province's 41st general election. Eligible voters have until 8 p.m. to vote.

Live coverage begins at 8 p.m. CT (9 p.m. ET) at cbc.ca/manitoba and on CBC Radio One 89.3 FM and CBC Television in Manitoba.

More than 109,000 Manitobans cast ballots in advance polls, according to Elections Manitoba.

At dissolution of the provincial legislature, there were 35 New Democrats, 19 Progressive Conservatives and one Liberal. There were two vacant seats.

The NDP has won four back-to-back majority governments dating back to 1999. However, it faces a major challenge this time around from the PCs, which hope to form government for the first time since the Gary Filmon administration from 1988 to 1999.

Campaign promises

Here are some of the promises the main parties have made over the course of the campaign:

NDP:

  • Cut ambulance fees in half, create 1,000 new personal care home beds and expand hours and locations of QuickCare clinics to reduce pressure on emergency rooms.
  • Spend more than $1 billion a year on infrastructure, replace red lights on perimeter highway around Winnipeg with overpasses and develop long-term plan to remove rail lines from Winnipeg.
  • Replace student loans with grants, provide free tuition for students in child welfare up to age 25 and create 12,000 new child-care spaces.
  • Continued deficits until at least 2021.

Progressive Conservatives:

  • Reduce provincial sales tax to seven per cent from eight per cent, raise income tax brackets with inflation and join the New West Partnership trade agreement with other western provinces.
  • Spend at least $1 billion a year on infrastructure, increase tourism promotion and create special business plan for the north.
  • Cut ambulance fees in half, set up a task force to find ways to cut health-care wait times and fast-track construction of 1,200 new personal care home beds.
  • Increase operating funds for licensed family child-care spaces, make up to $20 million available for scholarships and bursaries with private sector, develop a program that focuses on literacy in elementary schools.
  • Announce a target date for ending deficits once the party has updated budget figures.

Liberals:

  • A dedicated health unit to treat strokes, more mental-health care covered under medicare and free ambulance rides for low-income seniors.
  • Student loans converted to grants, full-day kindergarten.
  • Private liquor stores would be allowed, property taxes on condominiums would be reduced and ride-hailing services such as Uber would be allowed.
  • Municipalities would get one per cent of provincial sales tax for infrastructure and also a full sales tax rebate on goods they purchased.
  • The province would move to proportional representation and 10 per cent of legislature seats would be set aside for indigenous people.
  • Continued deficits until 2022.

Green Party of Manitoba:

  • A guaranteed annual income plan that would deliver $6,300 per year to Manitobans in an effort to reduce poverty.
  • Encouraging a "carbon-free economy" by investing in wind and solar energy, developing energy saving programs and penalizing polluters through a $50/tonne carbon tax.

Green Leader James Beddome, Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari, PC Leader Brian Pallister and NDP Leader Greg Selinger faced off in the only televised leaders' debate of the campaign on April 12. You can watch a recap of it here.

Accusations and controversies

The NDP campaigned on their record in government while accusing the Tories of promising cuts if elected.

The PCs capitalized on the NDP's infighting, which stemmed from the government's decision in 2013 to raise the provincial sales tax — something Selinger had promised not to do in the 2011 election.

But Pallister faced questions in the last week of the campaign over the amount of time he's spent in Costa Rica, what properties and companies he holds there, and whether he should have disclosed those details publicly.

Bokhari's Liberals are hoping to gain more than the one seat they had in the legislature, but the party struggled with candidate controversies and policy gaffes.

The Green Party of Manitoba is hoping to gain its first seat in the legislature.

Undecided voters could be a 'huge factor'

As voters head to the polls, political observers will be watching the undecided vote.

A Mainstreet Research poll, conducted for Postmedia, that was published on Saturday suggested about 19 per cent of voters were still undecided.

"You never know whether undecideds will actually turn out to vote," said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

"If it's 20 per cent in [a] close contest, that's a huge factor in determining the final outcome of the election."

Thomas said the high number of undecided voters could be because some people "are not all that impressed with any of the leaders," while others may be tired of politics in general.

"It's just the fatigue with politics and people are fed up with politicians. So you ask them to declare a preference for a political party and they'll just say don't know or refuse to answer," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press