Call it the battle of the justice ministers.
On Thursday, former provincial NDP justice minister Al Mackling made a surprise return to politics, and he's chosen to challenge none other than the province's most powerful Tory.
Mackling, 83, is seeking the federal NDP nomination in Provencher, the riding long held by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Manitoba's senior federal Tory and former provincial justice minister.
Mackling said his frustration with the polarizing, "American-style" tactics and policies of the Conservatives are what drove him out of retirement.
"I'm running because I am very concerned about what's happening in Canada," Mackling said. "They are undermining all of the social fabric we have built over decades."
Mackling said he is most frustrated with tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations as well as the Conservatives' tough-on-crime agenda, which critics say is forcing the construction of more prison beds instead of focusing on preventing crime, rehabilitating criminals and curbing poverty.
"If I were a true-blue Conservative, I would resent a government that is ludicrously spending this kind of money on a dead end," Mackling said. "Sure, (criminals) have to answer for what they have done, but they have to come out of prison with some skills, not just an improvement in how they can commit crimes and get away with them."
Toews said he welcomed Mackling into the race and expected a good, clean campaign. He said he worked for Mackling as a provincial lawyer when Mackling was in cabinet.
"Al Mackling is a gentleman, and not to be underestimated," Toews said.
Until now, the NDP was short a candidate in Provencher, not a riding the party has ever come close to winning. Toews has consistently won Provencher by a landslide, earning well over 60 per cent of the vote.
"He is a fellow brother-in-law," Mackling said, referring to Toews' legal career. "I don't question his ability. But what he demonstrates is this commitment to reactionary measures."
Mackling could be viewed as a parachute candidate -- he originally represented St. James. But he said he lived with his wife on a farm near Dugald for 23 years after he left politics and has many ties to that part of the riding. He said he's got plenty of energy to mount a real campaign, and his experience in the Schreyer minority provincial government could serve Canadians well in Ottawa.
Also running in Provencher are Green Party candidate Janine Gibson and Liberal Terry Hayward.
About Al Mackling
Began his political career as an alderman in the former city of St. James.
Elected as an MLA for the area in 1969 and became Premier Ed Schreyer's justice minister. Mackling was defeated in 1973, in part over anger about Unicity.
Returned to politics at the urging of Howard Pawley in 1981 and served in several cabinet portfolios until the government fell in 1988.
Helped establish Manitoba's first Human Rights Commission, first Ombudsman's Office and the first publicly funded legal aid system.