Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tories to campaign a week before NDP

Election law open to flexible interpretation

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IN a bid to get a jump on its political competitors, the Manitoba Progressive Conservative party will launch its campaign on August 30, nearly a week before it's expected Premier Greg Selinger will officially drop the writ, triggering the fall election.

Conservative Sen. Don Plett, co-chair of the Manitoba Tories election campaign, said his party is not particularly concerned with the exact date Selinger will visit Lt.-Gen. Philip Lee to formally dissolve the legislature and issue a writ of election.

Plett said the Tories have been ready to go for weeks and see no reason to wait any longer than August 30.

The party will deliver a full campaign platform document, complete with broad pledges in a number of key policy areas, he added.

"We're not particularly concerned about what the NDP is going to do," Plett said. "We've decided to launch our campaign regardless. We're starting our campaign on Tuesday (Aug. 30)."

The Tory strategy is a bold and somewhat ingenious interpretation of the fixed-date election law in Manitoba, which requires a vote to be held on Oct. 4. However, the law does not tell the government of the exact day it has to drop the writ, giving the premier the prerogative of holding a campaign between 28 and 35 days long.

The law also allows for a period of pre-writ political advertising that both the NDP and the Tories have used to full advantage.

Sources confirmed the Tories held back tens of thousands of their pre-writ advertising dollars to use the week of Aug. 29.

If the NDP had called an election that week, any money spent would be counted against their total election-spending limit. In announcing their campaign platform on August 30, the Tories are ensuring they get full value out of the pre-writ spending period.

But that is not the only advantage for the Tories in this strategy. The fixed-date election law does not, however, prohibit a party from launching their campaign during the pre-writ period.

With the NDP likely to wait until the Tuesday after the Labour Day weekend, this would give the Tories virtually unopposed access to media and control of the election story for seven days.

Michael Balagus, Selinger's chief of staff and a key election strategist, said the NDP campaign will not begin until the writ has been formally dropped. However, that does not mean there will not be election-style activity next week, he added.

"We're going to have some things going on next week, but we're not going to launch our full campaign," he said. "It's the last week of summer, and the week before the kids go back to school. We don't really think people want to listen to anybody talking about politics."

There could be additional pre-writ advertising, Balagus said. And the NDP will nominate Selinger in his Saint Boniface riding on Monday, August 29, an event that could ultimately become an election-style rally. Selinger's nomination will give the NDP a full 57-candidate slate for the upcoming election.

A spokesman for the Manitoba Liberal Party could not be reached for comment. However, Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard is scheduled to hold a dinner and rally with Quebec Liberal MP Justin Trudeau on August 31.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2011 A6

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