Winnipeg Chamber cancels leaders' debate after Pallister won't commit

The status of the pre-election debate — a long-standing tradition in Manitoba politics — has been in limbo because the Progressive Conservatives had not accepted an invitation to the Sept. 6 debate.

Leader is scheduled to campaign outside Winnipeg on Sept. 6, Tories say

Wednesday night's leaders' debate is expected to be the only one of the 2019 Manitoba election campaign, after the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce cancelled its debate. (Mike Fazio/CBC)

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has announced it will scrap a party leaders' debate because the business organization didn't know if Tory Leader Brian Pallister would be there.

The status of the pre-election debate — a long-standing tradition in Manitoba politics and scheduled this year for Sept. 6 — was in limbo for days because the Progressive Conservatives had not accepted an invitation.

The Tories said on Friday that Pallister was unable to participate due to a "full campaign schedule," which is slated to take the party's leader to several constituencies in rural and northern Manitoba next week.

The cancellation means the only scheduled leadership forum of the campaign occurred on Wednesday, when the leaders duked it out in a 50-minute televised debate.

Quality of debate compromised

Chamber spokesperson Colin Fast said the event was cancelled because the chamber couldn't confirm Pallister's participation and "didn't want to compromise the quality of our debate."

Another leaders' debate is traditionally held in Brandon, but that was also cancelled this year because the Tories backed out.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said in a statement that Pallister's contempt for public discourse is obvious.

"With a preference of misinformation, personal attacks, and ideological tirades, the premier has made it clear he does not like to be questioned — in the chambers, in the media and now in electoral debates with other party leaders," the email said.

"It is extremely unfortunate that we will not have another opportunity to debate after the short televised event earlier this week."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew slammed Pallister earlier in the week for his reluctance.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, left, and Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister take part in the only leadership debate of the 2019 Manitoba election campaign. (Mike Fazio/CBC)

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

The PCs said in a statement they have focused on meeting directly with Manitobans during the campaign, citing the nearly 40,000 people reached through electronic town-hall meetings.

"Mr. Pallister is the only leader who has made it a priority to travel and reach out to as many Manitobans as possible this election. He has already visited more than 40 constituencies across province, traveling over 4,000 kilometres and he has additional trips planned through all of next week," the statement said.

"Should the Winnipeg Chamber wish to reconsider its decision, the PC Party would be pleased to provide a senior party representative."

The leaders of the NDP, Liberals and Green Party have attended a number of debates already this election, which the Tories have either sent a representative in place of Pallister or did not attend.

Questioned earlier about his absence at an Aug. 20 debate focused on poverty, Pallister said the "debate was organized by people antagonistic to the PC government."


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at

With files from The Canadian Press