Manitoba

PCs no-show at Manitoba poverty debate

Candidates in Manitoba's provincial election took turns calling fowl on the Progressive Conservatives Tuesday night for not attending a debate on poverty and hunger.

NDP and Green leaders attend, while Liberals sent candidate to Tuesday night forum

Green Party Leader James Beddome placed a rubber chicken in the spot set aside for the PCs, who did not attend the debate on reducing poverty, organizers said. A PC spokesperson says they had other commitments, but said they are committed to reducing poverty. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Candidates in Manitoba's provincial election took turns calling fowl on the Progressive Conservatives Tuesday night for not attending a debate on poverty and hunger.

Green Party Leader James Beddome placed a rubber chicken in the spot set aside for a representative from the PCs during the forum held at Knox United Church and organized by a coalition of poverty groups.

"We really tried to get them out for the past month," said Michael Barkman, one of the debate organizers with Make Poverty History Manitoba.

"It was too bad, because to me that just shows a lack of interest, or lack of caring about the issues of poverty in Manitoba," he said.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew and Beddome were both in attendance, while the Liberals sent along candidate Shandi Strong.

Barkman said organizers made multiple requests to the PCs, even up until today, and were never given a reason why they wouldn't attend.

"We said, 'We'd like the leader Brian Pallister to be there, but if not, any one of the other 56 candidates would do.' We were really hoping that one person would be available tonight," he said.

One in 10 people live in poverty in Manitoba, Barkman said, with 67,000 Manitobans using a food bank every month.

"It impacts our health-care budgets, justice, Child and Family Services," he said. 

"It's too bad that a governing party that's interested in reducing the debt, isn't interested in addressing the root cause, which is poverty, by not showing up tonight."

PCs had 'other commitments'

In an emailed statement to CBC News, PC spokesperson Braeden Jones said the party had other commitments.

"We believe in the value of speaking directly to Manitobans," he wrote, "including through all-candidates forums we are able to attend, when they graciously greet us at their doors."

"Our PC team is committed to continue making measurable progress in reducing poverty, and making life more affordable for Manitobans," he said.

Jones pointed to the government's current poverty reduction strategy as well as the reduced PST, and said further commitments are coming.

On Wednesday, Pallister responded to the criticism over his party's absence at the debate. 

"You all know the debate was organized by people antagonistic to the PC government so we will leave that there," he said. 

"As far as willingness to debate, we have engaged now with … over 25,000 Manitobans in our electronic town hall model that we are using to reach out to Manitobans." 

NDP leader Wab Kinew and Green Party leader James Beddome were both in attendance, while the Liberals sent along candidate Shandi Strong. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Voters 'really' disappointed

Voter Nicole Jowett, who works with newcomers and refugees, said she wanted to hear how each party would address the connections between poverty and housing, health and education.

"I think it was really disappointing to see that a key person who should have been a part of the conversation, wasn't there," Jowett said.

"This is a very real situation for people that are living in cycles of poverty, and for people that are going to potentially be leading this province, to not see that, and prioritize that, is very disappointing."

Voter and disability advocate Carlos Sosa echoed Jowett's concerns.

"It would have been nice to have a full debate, with all candidates, all parties present," he said. "It's not just about the three opposition parties, but we also need to hear from the governing party as well."

"It's about democracy, and when we talk about valuing voices at the table, it's critical that everyone is here."


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Corrections

  • This story incorrectly stated that one in 10 children in Manitoba live in poverty. In fact, one in 10 people live in poverty.
    Aug 21, 2019 8:18 AM CT

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca

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