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With Tuesday marking 50 days to go until the Manitoba provincial election, prospective candidate nominations are stacking up fast — including one from an independent MLA who previously said he wouldn't run again.
Cliff Graydon (Emerson) said in October he wouldn't be seeking a fourth term in office. He changed his mind after some coaxing from constituents, he said during an interview Monday.
"The people of the constituency have been consistently asking me to run again, but also thanking me for the representation that I have done for them in the past, both as a caucus member and also as an independent," Graydon said.
He acknowledged running as an independent in the new constituency of Borderland will have its advantages and challenges, such as fundraising for an election campaign all over again, though he has "enough money now already to run a good campaign." (He wouldn't specify how much.)
Graydon was booted from the Progressive Conservative caucus last year, after making inappropriate comments to female staff, including suggesting one woman sit on his knee during a party luncheon. He publicly apologized for having a "bad sense of humour" and making "inappropriate jokes."
"I want to stress as strongly as I can: I’m not a sexual harasser, as some in the media have portrayed... I realize some people today are much more sensitive to inappropriate humour and that going forward, I will ensure I will be more conscious about my comments," Graydon said in November.
The now-independent candidate said his areas of focus during the 2019 campaign will include "illegal border crossings" of would-be asylum-seekers, removing the education tax from agricultural land, and providing disaster financial assistance to rural municipalities such as Emerson-Franklin and Montcalm that have been affected by high waters, but not necessarily flooding.
As for the major political parties, representatives of all three told the Free Press they would be trying to field full slates of 57 candidates before the writ drop.
The official campaign period is expected to begin sometime in early August, and last 28 to 34 days.
So far, the Progressive Conservatives have 49 candidates nominated, the NDP has 42, and the Liberals 17. The Green party also has a dozen nominees, while three more independents — former Winnipeg radio host Dave Wheeler (McPhillips), former mayoral candidate Umar Hayat (Waverley) and former city council candidate Baljeet Sharma (St. Vital) — have thrown their hats in the ring.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont acknowledged his party is seeking to field a full slate for the first time since 2007, and to capitalize on opponents' flaws.
"The NDP are the weakest they’ve been in about 50 years, and we have a lot of really experienced campaigners, as well as very high-quality candidates and more to come," Lamont said Monday.
"I think there's a lot of people who would like to see (Premier Brian) Pallister gone, so it's a huge opportunity for us. We just have to convince people that we are the option to beat the Pallister PCs, which I think we are."
Having recently fired senior adviser Eric Stewart for making inappropriate comments online, Lamont is leaning on chief of staff Chris Bishop as the party's interim campaign manager. Lamont said he expects to hire a permanent replacement for Stewart soon.
Tim Johnson, the NDP's provincial secretary, said the party isn't revealing its campaign manager yet, but is excited about the one it's chosen.
Many of the NDP candidates announced so far work in health care or in education. They are alarmed by what the Pallister government has done in those sectors, Johnson said.
"They're scared for their jobs and for their kids. And at the doorstep, they're hearing already that Pallister only cares about the people at the top and they want to help get (NDP Leader) Wab Kinew elected so he can be there for all of us," he said.
Pallister said last week he wants to see all 57 Tory candidates in place before the writ drops. PC party chief executive officer Keith Stewart said the milestone is coming "soon."
"We’re the only party committed to cutting taxes in this election and our premier is the only leader trusted by Manitobans to do what he says he will do for our province," Stewart said in an emailed statement.
"We’ve kept our word and delivered on our commitments from the 2016 election, including lowering the PST. We’re building a better Manitoba, and our campaign will speak directly to Manitobans about securing a strong future, together."
Manitobans head to the polls Sept. 10. Candidate nominations close Aug. 26.
Updated on Monday, July 22, 2019 at 7:57 PM CDT: Updates headline
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