What the rest of Canada should know about the Manitoba election
TORONTO -- It's election time!
No, not that one. We're still waiting on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit Rideau Hall and set the stage for Canada's 43rd general election.
Voters in Manitoba, though, will be going to the polls on Tuesday to elect a new provincial government.
The Manitoba campaign has largely flown under the radar in the rest of the country, perhaps because it took place over the summer vacation season or perhaps because political observers have been gearing up for the Oct. 21 federal vote.
"Nobody's paying attention to this election, frankly," Shannon Sampert, a columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press, said Monday on CTV's Power Play.
If that includes you, CTVNews.ca has put together a guide explaining the circumstances behind the election, the highlights of the campaign, the province's key political figures and what each major party is proposing to do should they form a government.
WHY IS IT HAPPENING?
Because the premier wanted it to.
Manitoba's last election took place in 2016. It ended with Premier Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives winning a majority government, ending 17 years of NDP rule.
Manitoba's electoral law called for the next election to take place in October 2020, but Pallister decided to move the date up by more than a year – a call that has led critics to suggest that he is attempting to take advantage of both his high standing in the polls and the decreased interest in politics during the summer.
Additionally, Sampert said, the election call came at a time when the province's strong public-sector union voices were distracted by a government directive that they reduce their number of bargaining units.
"Mr. Pallister has been extremely strategic in calling this vote early," she said.
"Right in the middle of them having to restructure, he dropped the writ."
Making his closing pitch to voters on Monday, Pallister said his government needed a new mandate to ensure it still had the support of the electorate.
WHO ARE THE MAJOR PLAYERS?
Pallister had five years as an MLA and eight as an MP behind him when he returned to provincial politics in 2012 as the PC leader.
In 2016, in his first election as leader, he led the PCs to the province's largest majority government in over a century, picking up 40 of the province's 57 seats.
His term as premier has been notable for a cut to the provincial sales tax, reduced budget deficits, a fight with the federal government over the carbon tax and a controversy over the amount of time he spends at a vacation home in Costa Rica.
The NDP are the PCs' main opposition. They were in power from 1999 until Pallister's victory in 2016. Most of the NDP MLAs from that era are long gone from the political scene; only four of the party's candidates this time around held seats when their party was in power.
Broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew, who was recruited by the NDP as a star candidate in 2016, became the party's leader the following year.
Kinew has not made a lot of political headlines in his time as opposition leader, instead finding himself on the defensive over years-old allegations of domestic violence from a former partner, which he denies and charges related to which were stayed, as well as a past criminal conviction for assault and impaired driving, for which he has received a pardon.
The NDP leader has positioned his party as the only option for voters looking to oust Pallister's PCs – a position borne out by the province's recent political history.
Manitoba also has a provincial Liberal party, but they have not been in power since 1958 and have not been a major player in the legislature since 1990. At the time of dissolution, they held four of the province's 57 seats.
The Liberals are led by Dougald Lamont, a former political adviser and university lecturer.
Nobody from outside the PC, NDP and Liberal parties has been elected in a Manitoba general election since 1969. The Green Party of Manitoba, which garnered more than 5 per cent of all ballots cast in 2016, is running candidates in a record 43 ridings.
The conservative-minded Manitoba First party has one sitting MLA in former Conservative MP Steven Fletcher. Fletcher is not running in this election, as he has committed to stand in the federal election for the People's Party.
WHAT ARE THEIR PLATFORMS?
The Progressive Conservatives' campaign slogan is "Moving Manitoba Forward." Pallister's party appears to be repeating its 2016 strategy of running against the previous NDP government, as the platform page on the party website offers readers the chance to learn more about "The NDP Mess" before it mentions any specific PC pledges.
Prominent PC promises include an array of tax cuts – including a 10-year phase-out of funding education through property taxes – as well as 20 new schools, moves to create an open cannabis retail market by 2020, a fight with the federal government over the carbon tax, and a repeal of the law requiring retailers to close on holidays, though a shopping ban would remain in place for four hours on Remembrance Day.
The NDP platform page also starts on the attack, claiming that Pallister is making life more difficult for Manitobans. Under the slogan "A Plan For All Of Us," the NDP say their platform is focused on health care, jobs and quality of life.
To this end, the opposition party says that if elected, it will reopen closed emergency rooms, cancel plans to privatize home care, increase the province's minimum wage to $15 per hour, increase taxes on people earning more than $250,000 and work with the federal government on carbon pricing.
The perennially third-place Liberals are using the slogan "A New Way Forward." Their platform includes making the province carbon-neutral by 2030, adding 18,000 child-care spaces and creating a provincial police service.
WHAT HAS THE CAMPAIGN BEEN ABOUT?
Health-care reform has been a major talking point during the campaign. According to a poll from Probe Research, 44 per cent of surveyed Manitobans considered it to be a key issue – nearly triple the number that cite any other topic.
The PCs have downgraded three of Winnipeg's six emergency rooms to urgent care centres. The NDP have pledged to reverse that decision for two of the three ERs if elected.
"It's been health care since the writ was dropped, and that's been pushed mostly by the NDP," Sampert said.
The economy, taxes, the environment and education are also considered important issues, according to the Probe poll.
The campaign was affected in late August by bad economic news, as the Conference Board of Canada downgraded its forecast for Manitoba's economic growth, leaving it with the most sluggish forecast of any province.
WHO IS LIKELY TO WIN?
Most polls have suggested that the PCs enjoy a comfortable lead, largely on their strength in rural parts of the province.
Many polls put the gap between the PCs and the NDP at 10 percentage points or more. In the historic PC victory of 2016, the gap was much larger; the PCs secured 53 per cent of votes compared to 26 per cent for the NDP – generally in the range of what polls were suggesting at the time.
The race between the PCs and the NDP is closest in Winnipeg, which contains 32 of the legislature's 57 seats.
The PCs' strong showing in the polls comes despite Pallister having the lowest net approval rating of any of the party leaders. The Liberal and Green leaders are tops in that category.
Some analysts have suggested that suburban women could be a deciding demographic. Both major parties have targeted this group, with the PCs running ads highlighting Pallister's family life and the NDP campaign team preaching a story of personal redemption for their leader.
Sampert says the PCs should easily win another majority government, with the NDP needing to increase its seat total from 12 to 20 for Kinew to avoid facing questions over the future of his leadership. She says the Liberals will be hoping to hold onto their four seats, while the Greens stand a chance at winning their first provincial seat ever – likely in Winnipeg's "granola belt" riding of Wolseley.
Advance voting numbers are up slightly from 2016.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE FEDERAL ELECTION?
Likely, very little.
Liberals typically perform much better at the federal level in Manitoba than they do provincially, while the NDP tend to have trouble finding significant federal support outside certain Winnipeg strongholds and the northern riding of Churchill—Keewatinook Aski.
Conservatives won a majority of Manitoba ridings in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections even though the 2007 and 2011 provincial votes both produced NDP governments.
There was a stark urban-rural divide on display in 2015. Although the Liberals held only one of the province's 14 federal seats heading into the election, they finished it with seven – all in Winnipeg. The Conservatives won five seats outside the city, while the NDP retained one urban seat and one rural one.
All of this is to say that if Manitoba voters are upset with the federal government, they're unlikely to take it out on provincial politicians of a similar stripe, and vice-versa.
Still, none of these examples have been in such a short timeframe. With the federal election taking place less than six weeks after the provincial one, it's entirely possible that some voters will mark their ballot in October based on what they were thinking about a completely different set of politicians in September.