Manitoba

Manitoba's incumbent Tories have only committed to a single leaders debate

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister was being accused Tuesday of hiding from his opponents after plans for one leaders debate fell through and another seemed uncertain.

Pallister won't attend Brandon debate, hasn't committed to Winnipeg chamber debate

Green Party Leader James Beddome placed a rubber chicken on the table when he Progressive Conservative Party did not attend a debate on last week night focused on poverty in Winnipeg. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister was being accused Tuesday of hiding from his opponents after plans for one leaders debate fell through and another seemed uncertain.

The Chamber of Commerce in Brandon, along with the Brandon Sun newspaper, had hoped to hold a leaders forum before the Sept. 10 election. A debate in the province's second-largest city has been an election tradition. But the Tories backed out, said the newspaper's editor, Matt Goerzen.

"Brian Pallister's campaign team has informed us … that the premier will not be joining us in Brandon," Goerzen posted on social media this week.

"As such, the chamber and the Sun have cancelled the debate."

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is planning to hold a similar event next week, but Pallister's team has been noncommittal.

Campaigning that day

"He is currently scheduled to be outside the city campaigning that day," Progressive Conservative communications staff wrote in an email Tuesday.

When asked Tuesday morning by CBC News if he would attend the chamber debate, Pallister did not answer directly. On two of the three times he was asked the question, he said the decision was in the hands of his campaign management team.

Pallister's opponents said democracy was not being well-served.

"I don't know why Brian Pallister called an early election if he didn't plan to show up for it," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Pallister bumped up the election more than a year ahead of the scheduled date of Oct. 6, 2020.

For now, the only debate to which he has committed is a 50-minute televised event Wednesday night put on by a consortium of Winnipeg TV outlets.

"Honestly, the more debates, the better, especially if we are going to be talking about issues that aren't going to be limited to what we can talk about in 50 minutes on TV," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said.

Last week, Green Party Leader James Beddome placed a rubber chicken in front of an empty chair at a debate organized by an anti-poverty coalition and which Pallister declined to attend.

Pallister said he and his fellow Tories have been criss-crossing the province, door-knocking and taking part in electronic town-hall meetings.

"We're excited about continuing to do our outreach and I'll leave the management of the campaign to the managers of the campaign."

Pallister has been running a front-runner-style campaign since he called the vote. His announcements have been mostly low-key, incremental increases on past actions.

Polls throughout this year have suggested the Tories have a solid lead over the New Democrats, but with a much closer race in vote-rich Winnipeg.

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With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone and CBC's Austin Grabish

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