Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives have won re-election in Manitoba in a victory that solidifies a bloc of conservative premiers who have lined up against the Trudeau government ahead of a federal campaign.
With 72 per cent of polls reporting, the PCs were projected to win a majority government, leading in 35 ridings and with roughly 50 per cent of the popular vote. The NDP were ahead in 19 ridings and the Liberals led in three.
Cheers rose through a rapidly growing crowd at PC headquarters on Tuesday night as the party painted most of Manitoba Tory blue, winning a majority of the province’s seats outside of Winnipeg. Within the capital city, a number of tight three-way battles were being fought among the Tories, New Democrats and Liberals.
While the PCs were projected to lose a handful of seats in the legislature, Mr. Pallister’s gamble to call the election one year earlier than prescribed under the province’s fixed-date election law looked set to return his party to power with another of the largest government caucuses in decades. The PCs had 38 seats before dissolution, while the NDP had 12 and the Liberals four. There were three Independents
The PCs won Tuesday’s election after a campaign in which Mr. Pallister pledged to relax the tight control he has exercised on the provincial budget since being elected Premier in 2016. The runner-up New Democrats, led by Wab Kinew, promised to undo cuts made to Winnipeg-area health-care centres by the Progressive Conservatives.
Mr. Pallister compared his party to the animal on Manitoba’s logo, the bison, several times on Tuesday night as he celebrated large back-to-back majorities. While admitting that his moves on health care have not been popular with some, he said his victory showed widespread support for the austerity he has imposed on the province over the past three years.
“We inherited a massive responsibility, some would call it a mess,” said Mr. Pallister, as he was flanked by his wife and a number of legislators at a hotel in Winnipeg.
“The Manitoba bison, unlike most species, when faced with a challenge always turns and faces toward it. And we did that and we’ve done that with focus. We faced our challenges together, Manitobans do that,” he said.
Moments earlier his main opponent, the NDP’s Mr. Kinew, vowed to serve as “the conscience of Manitoba” as he heads a larger opposition bench based largely around central Winnipeg. He vowed to lead his party to victory in four years time.
“Humble in victory, humble in defeat, that’s my goal. But I don’t think we were defeated tonight, I think Manitobans sent a strong message tonight,” said Mr. Kinew.
Mr. Pallister is among several conservative premiers, along with Alberta’s Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and Ontario’s Doug Ford, who have been waging political and legal battles against the federal carbon tax that took effect this year. While Mr. Pallister has not been as vocal as some of his conservative colleagues, his government launched its own legal challenge of the federal policy and he used the issue during the campaign to set himself apart from Mr. Kinew.
Mr. Pallister had once planned to introduce his own carbon tax. But he scrapped those plans last year and instead joined a coalition of premiers who opposed the federal tax. He now argues that Ottawa should recognize Manitoba’s investments in hydroelectric power instead of a tax. The federal government has rejected that argument.
While Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta have launched constitutional challenges that are set to head to the Supreme Court of Canada, Manitoba has taken a more narrow legal approach. The province filed a lawsuit in Federal Court that objects to the tax and how it is applied in the province.
Mr. Pallister’s central message during the campaign was a promise to balance the province’s budget over the next four years while still cutting a slew of taxes and allowing more spending on health and education. The win solidifies the Progressive Conservative Party’s hold on a province that had been ruled by NDP governments for 17 years before Mr. Pallister entered the premier’s office three years ago.
The New Democrats focused on calls to invest more money in health care, including reopening emergency rooms closed by the PCs, while increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and hiking taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.
Most opinion polls showed Mr. Pallister’s party entering the campaign far ahead of its opponents. In 2016, Mr. Pallister won the largest majority government in Manitoba in more than a century. The PCs secured 40 of the province’s 57 seats with more than half the popular vote.
The Tory Leader ran a safe campaign according to Paul Thomas, a political-science professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba. Mr. Pallister avoided regular appearances with reporters and kept his promises small after three years of nearly daily warnings about the need for austerity.
“I’ve watched a lot of elections here and I can’t recall ever being so bored by an election,” said Scott MacKay, the president of Winnipeg-based polling firm Probe Research. He said most Manitobans only began showing interest in the campaign last week as they returned to work and school.
“If the turnout is really low, less than 50 per cent, then that will be the punctuation mark on this thing,” he said. “This campaign died with a whimper.”
The campaign was marked by a barrage of mudslinging between the two main parties. The Progressive Conservatives ran ads attacking Mr. Kinew for his past criminal convictions, for which the record was suspended, and an accusation of assault from a former girlfriend, which he has denied. The ads also publicized offensive lyrics from Mr. Kinew’s rapping career.
“They’ve tried to draw a comparison between this responsible citizen in Mr. Pallister and this angry, Indigenous man in Mr. Kinew who they say has this violent past,” Mr. Thomas said. “They’ve tried to leave the impression these events were recent.”
Mr. Kinew acknowledged a “difficult period” in his life and apologized in a book published before he was elected to lead the NDP in 2017. He has said the incidents, which happened more than a decade ago, don’t reflect who he is today.
The New Democrats responded with ads in which people criticized Mr. Pallister’s decision to cut health-care services. The ads seemed ready to insult the Progressive Conservative Leader, just as the sound cut out.
Mr. Pallister’s popularity has trailed that of his party. He is seen as aloof and cold, according to Mr. Thomas. A number of gaffes and criticisms from his time in office, including his decision to take long vacations annually to his home in Costa Rica, where he does not access his government e-mail, did not help to endear him to the electorate.
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