Pallister sends Manitobans to polls Sept. 10, ending months of election speculation
Tories will seek re-election after convincing 2016 majority where party won 40 of 57 seats
After months of speculation regarding an early election, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
Pallister made the announcement Wednesday afternoon on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature, flanked by dozens of his MLAs and the Progressive Conservatives' new slate of candidates.
"I'm proud today to be standing with people who share the goal of making things better for Manitobans," said Pallister, who is seeking his second term as premier.
"I'm proud to stand with a group of people that is the best slate of candidates ever been presented to the people of Manitoba."
'An important crossroads'
The premier is flouting the fixed election date of Oct. 6, 2020, by calling an election a year earlier than he is mandated. He is expected to drop the writ sometime in August, which will start a campaign of either 28 or 34 days.
Pallister has repeatedly said an election shouldn't interfere with Manitoba's 150th anniversary next year.
In his address, the Progressive Conservative leader repeated themes he's expressed throughout his first mandate as premier. He took on a mess in 2016, after 17 years of rule under the Manitoba New Democrats, he argued, resulting in higher taxes, rising debt and a faltering health-care system.
"The Official Opposition respectfully has offered very few ideas, if any, and we know that they lack the will and the teamwork to face the challenges that must be faced," Pallister said of the NDP, led by Wab Kinew.
He said Manitoba cannot afford the "enormous risk" of turning the reins over to the NDP.
"The next provincial election will bring Manitoba to a very important crossroads," he said.
"The PC government inherited a mess, but with the support, the encouragement, the ideas, the inspiration that came to us from Manitobans, we have acted and we have made much progress — but much more needs to be done."
He said rates of poverty are persistently high, along with incidences of crime and people struggling with addictions. He added too many Manitobans lack discretionary funds.
Pallister said he has so far accomplished most of what he set out to do, such as lowering taxes and slashing the deficit.
"We've got over 90 per cent of the things we ran on done or in major progress right now," he said.
"For the things that we're going to be presenting to you, which I won't give you today, I think, for defensible reasons … we haven't asked Manitobans for permission — and we need to."
Winnipeg a battleground
The Tories were ushered into power in 2016, winning 40 out of 57 seats in the legislature. The governing NDP had been relegated to 14 seats.
A recent poll suggests a tightening race between the parties — at least in Winnipeg.
A Probe Research survey from March found the NDP in a statistical tie with the Tories in Manitoba's capital, but the Progressive Conservatives are well ahead provincewide, with the backing of 42 per cent of decided and leaning voters, whereas the NDP garnered 30 per cent.
In the months since, the Progressive Conservatives have faced heightened criticism over Winnipeg's health-care overhaul, including news last week that a 63-year-old woman died at St. Boniface hospital after waiting hours in an ER that turned people away.
Pallister said his government remains focused on health-care and other pressing issues to Manitobans, even as they ready for the campaign.
"We've demonstrated repeatedly that we're ready to stay focused on fixing finances, repairing services and rebuilding the economy," he can. "We can walk and chew gum at the same time."
Summer doldrums dismissed
The premier brushed off a suggestion Manitoba cannot juggle an election campaign during the summer, which political parties are generally averse to doing.
"I think it's a critical election for the future of the province and I know that Manitobans are interested in these issues," he said. "I also know they're better connected than ever before. They can go online and get the news."
He also dismissed that voters would be fatigued by an provincial election six weeks in advance of the federal vote.
"Ultimately, our veterans did a lot more tough lifting than that," he said.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he's prepared to run an election centred on health care.
"Do Manitobans want three more years of Pallister and emergency rooms closing, or do they want to elect me as your next premier so I can get the job done in terms of fixing health care?"
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont argued the choice is between the "tired old parties" or the banner he carries, which will do politics differently.
"Frankly," he said, "Manitobans don't have to put up with another four years of cuts to education, health care, infrastructure and incompetence under the Pallister government."
Meanwhile, Pallister answered media questions for the first time since he was slammed for giving up his seat at a D-Day ceremony in France this month to visit officials with the pea processing company Roquette instead.
He did not explain why he skipped the event, but said "no province did a better job" than Manitoba of paying its respects. He said Manitoba officials attended a number of D-Day-related events and laid 20 wreaths.
"What's important is that we demonstrated our support for veterans, and we most certainly did that better than any jurisdiction in the country."