PCs' Brian Pallister targeted in feisty election debate between 4 Manitoba party leaders
Wednesday's TV debate is so far only one that all 4 major party leaders have committed to
Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister faced a barrage of attacks as the leaders of Manitoba's other three main political parties used a televised debate Wednesday to take aim at the perceived front-runner in the 2019 provincial election campaign.
Pallister, who is seeking re-election on Sept. 10 after winning a convincing majority in 2016, was repeatedly in the crosshairs, with other party leaders — the NDP's Wab Kinew, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont and the Green Party's James Beddome — using their allotted questions to slam his party's overhaul of the health-care system and attack the premier for a recent downgrade to the province's economic outlook.
The sparring was most heated during exchanges on health care, with Pallister insisting only his party could reform a system that produced the worst wait times in the country under the previous NDP government.
Kinew slammed Pallister for making health care worse through a consolidation plan that reduced the number of emergency rooms in Winnipeg from six to three, and left front-line workers exhausted.
Watch as Pallister defends his government's record on health care:
"Who can believe you this time when it comes to health?" Kinew asked the man he hopes to unseat.
"Everyone," Pallister replied, "because we've kept our word."
Pallister says PCs will balance budget by 2022
The 50-minute televised debate got snippy at times, particularly between Pallister and Kinew, who frequently talked over each other.
The debate, held at CBC Manitoba's studios and moderated by Red River College journalism instructor Joanne Kelly, involved few direct answers to queries and a reliance on talking points. It was organized by a consortium of Manitoba broadcasters: CBC, CTV and Global/CJOB.
There were few revelations on Wednesday, aside from Pallister saying he would balance the budget two years earlier than his previous promise of 2024.
"The reality is that we've worked very, very hard, while maintaining increasing investments in health care," Pallister told reporters after the debate.
Watch as Lamont attributes economic downturn to Pallister's inaction:
Finances and the economy were a major focus of the debate, with Pallister twice attempting to press Kinew on whether he'd increase the provincial sales tax if elected. In 2013, the NDP government increased the PST from seven to eight per cent — a move reversed by the PCs earlier this year.
"The PST is a settled issue," Kinew said. "It is not going up."
Lamont later blasted Pallister for contributing to a gloomier economic forecast for the province by reining in program spending.
"Could you please tell Manitobans how freezing wages and firing people grows the economy?"
Kinew attacks PCs on health care
The NDP leader has said he'd fight the election campaign on health care, and he brought that strategy into the debate.
He related the story of a Manitoba woman he talked to who recently went to St. Boniface Hospital to deliver her baby.
"When they got to the waiting room, it was so packed that mom had to go lie down in the car in the parking lot through her contractions," Kinew said.
The woman told him the birth of her first child — before the Tories came to power — was a far different experience.
"They said it was like giving birth in two different countries," the NDP leader said.
Kinew spent a portion of the night on the defensive, as he justified a green plan offering a $350 rebate on all Manitobans' electricity bills, which would encourage people to make green decisions like winterizing their homes, he said.
Beddome said the NDP's idea would only entice people to waste electricity.
"The NDP plan is a disaster financially for Hydro and is worse than the PCs'," Lamont added.
Watch as party leaders discuss their environmental platforms
The Liberal leader positioned his party as the progressive option, presenting his environmental plan, which promises to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, as bolder than any other strategy.
He also took aim at Kinew for saying in a 2015 Maclean's article he leaned conservative on fiscal matters.
"I think the NDP are sort of trying to be as PC as possible in order to stay safe, when the fact is that we need major investments in things like infrastructure," Lamont said after the debate.
Beddome, meanwhile, said the time has come for Manitoba to elect its first Green Party representative to the legislature.
"We're seeing Greens elected across Canada," he told the audience. "It's time to elect Greens in Manitoba."
At one point, the party leaders were asked if they'd support the public consumption of cannabis edibles in Manitoba, with Beddome going further and suggesting licensed establishments should serve cannabis products.
Lamont dismissed the need for edible consumption in public places, Kinew said his government would permit it if the packaging is childproof and Pallister did not answer the question.
Watch as CBC journalists Kristin Annable, Bartley Kives and Marcy Markusa analyze the debate:
So far, the televised debate is the only confirmed event during the campaign where the four party leaders will square off. Pallister has yet to commit to next week's Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce debate, and a debate in Brandon has been cancelled after organizers said Pallister wouldn't participate.
Wednesday's debate came just over two weeks into an election campaign marked by the Progressive Conservatives, who have been identified as the favourite in a recent poll, pledging to lower taxes and gradually build on initiatives from their first term, such as health-care reform.
Opposition parties, meanwhile, have cast the PCs as a volatile choice, saying their government brought chaos to health care and slashed social services.
At dissolution, the Tories had 38 seats in the legislature, the NDP had 12 representatives, the Liberals had four MLAs and three MLAs were independents.
There was no mention at the debate of either Kinew's assault of a taxi driver or allegations he abused a former partner, despite the NDP leader's past being featured predominantly in PC advertising.
"I want to talk about the issues Manitobans care about," Pallister said afterwards.
Watch the full debate here: