Wab Kinew would like a word with Brian Pallister. The NDP leader authorized a letter from his party’s campaign director, Bob Dewar, to the Progressive Conservative party’s David McLaughlin, asking the Tory leader to agree to a second leaders debate as Election Day, Sept. 10, nears.
"I’m challenging Mr. Pallister to have another debate. Let’s talk about health care. Let’s talk about the issues," Kinew said at a campaign announcement Monday morning.
"If you want to ask questions of the NDP, come to a debate. If you want to say something bad about the NDP, come and debate. Let’s have it on, have it out in the open to talk about the issues that matter to Manitobans."
Aside from his appearance in the 50-minute televised leaders debate Aug. 28, Pallister — who is running for re-election after taking the premier’s office in 2016 — has not appeared in a public debate. Both the Brandon and Winnipeg chambers of commerce cancelled previously scheduled leadership debates after the Conservative leader wouldn’t commit to attending.
'If you want to ask questions of the NDP, come to a debate. If you want to say something bad about the NDP, come and debate. Let’s have it on, have it out in the open to talk about the issues that matter to Manitobans' - NDP Leader Wab Kinew
Kinew, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont and Green Leader James Beddome have each represented their parties at several public debates so far.
In the letter to the PC campaign, the NDP’s Dewar wrote, "We believe that in order to make an informed choice, voters must have a clear understanding of the positions of each party leader. Because this election is about health care, Manitobans deserve to know what the next provincial government will do with their health-care system. And since the televised debate on Aug. 28, we have heard from many people who wanted to hear more than the 50-minute format allowed."
"I am sure, given Mr. Pallister’s refusal to attend the Winnipeg chamber’s debate, there will be some interest from the media and public," Dewar continued. "Please let me know as soon as possible if Mr. Pallister is willing to participate."
Pallister, at a PC announcement at an Exchange District distillery, wouldn’t commit to a yes or no, but defended his campaign style, which has emphasized community visits and telephone town halls, which he said have engaged 40,000 Manitobans so far.
'I’ll be in 50 of 57 ridings by the end of the day tomorrow. I go out to the people of Manitoba. I don’t expect the people of Manitoba to come to me like Mr. Kinew does' - Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister
"We’ve actually already run the most ambitious and energetic leadership tour and campaign in the history of the province of Manitoba," Pallister said.
"I’ll be in 50 of 57 ridings by the end of the day tomorrow. I go out to the people of Manitoba. I don’t expect the people of Manitoba to come to me like Mr. Kinew does."
As of yet, according to pre-election polling, Pallister’s absence from the public debates and forums hasn’t adversely affected his chances at re-election: Probe Research found the Conservatives retained the support of 40 per cent of decided and leaning voters in polling results made public Aug. 30. The NDP trailed by 11 percentage points.
Political science professionals have called the Conservative leader’s absence a common "front-runner tactic." When the PCs were absent from an August forum on poverty and homelessness, Lisa Young of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy told the Free Press, "For parties with reason to believe they’re doing well, or if they’re in the lead, they might have something to lose by attending."
Conversely, political hopefuls aiming to boost support and rile up their base stand to gain the most by engaging in public forums and debates, where campaign professionals can’t control the messaging or the public perception, Young said; Kinew’s challenge to Pallister is in keeping with that dichotomy, as is the willingness of the other provincial leaders to attend a full-fledged leaders debate.
"We would be more than happy to participate in another leaders debate," Lamont said. "Pallister’s refusal to participate is a disservice to democracy."
Beddome said, "Yes, we would love to see more debates as it is good for democracy. The incumbent governing party should show up and speak to their record.
"Maybe Pallister will attend the environment debate on Sept. 5, 2019?" Beddome continued. "I certainly would encourage him to do so, although based on the PC snub of most other debates, I am not sure I would expect that."
With one week until Election Day, Kinew said he’s certain the Conservatives would continue to make campaign announcements, and to criticize his decisions and party. At the Conservative announcement, Pallister did begin by critiquing Kinew’s negotiations with David Chartrand and the Manitoba Metis Federation regarding Manitoba Hydro.
But the NDP leader said he’d like a chance to face those criticisms in person.
"I think if they want to come out and criticize me or my party, then they should accept the challenge to have another debate," Kinew said.
"This election is not about me, and it’s not about Mr. Pallister. It’s about the people of Manitoba, and I think the people should get a chance to evaluate the leaders, and one of the ways that we do that is in the debate setting."
When asked for a yes or no to Kinew’s challenge, a Conservative spokesperson said, "We have nothing further to add, therefore the leader’s comments stand."
— with files from Maggie Macintosh
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.