The Manitoba Liberals appear to be leaning left during the provincial election campaign, looking to woo progressive voters away from the New Democrats.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont acknowledged Thursday his party is trying to offer Manitobans an alternative to the decades of fairly centrist NDP and Tory rule they’ve experienced since the 1950s.
"What we're offering, I think it's where I think the world needs to go... It's nice that it coincides with my beliefs. But the fact is after we've had 40 years where inequality has been getting worse and worse, the environment's been getting worse and worse, we actually want to do something about it," he said.
The Grits have made at least 16 campaign promises so far, which include creating a minimum income program and $15 living wage within two years, and releasing a climate plan aimed at making the province carbon neutral by 2030.
Chris Adams, a political scientist with the University of Manitoba, said the local Liberals look to be doing what their federal cousins did in 2015 when Justin Trudeau aimed to out-flank the NDP on the left. Trudeau’s strategy proved successful with promises of deficit budgets and more focus on infrastructure investments.
"The power of the Liberals historically since the early last century is that they’re able to move to the right and to the left as they see fit. Many people see that as opportunism, but the Manitoba Liberals have kind of the freedom to do that, too," Adams said.
"They’re in a position where they can be quite experimental. They have a small caucus which allows them to be nimble. They have a new leader and so they're not really wedded to any historical artifact of the party."
The Liberals currently have four seats in the legislature, with Lamont being elected to his St. Boniface seat during a by-election last summer. They're in third place in recent pre-election polls, with the Green Party gaining voter support in recent Probe Research and Mainstreet surveys.
Adams said the Liberals are going to try to appeal to urban voters, namely in seat-rich Winnipeg where many "soft-left" voters could be swayed away from the NDP.
As for the New Democrats, he’s seeing a lot of similarities between their current campaign and the one that brought Gary Doer’s NDP to power in 1999 – which is fitting since Bob Dewar, one of Doer’s former right-hand-men, is helping manage Wab Kinew’s campaign. Both NDP campaigns focused on a return to balanced budgets and health care improvements.
"I think Kinew is trying to position the NDP as a government in waiting and one that won't be a risky government for homeowners and middle-class voters if they put them in," Adams said. "I think in some ways that may be the nature of a conservative platform."
The NDP don’t want to be painted as the "tax and spend" party by the Tories, Adams said, though that way of thinking is among Brian Pallister’s favourite talking points.
Asked Thursday about whether the Liberals may be out-flanking him on the left, Kinew argued his party’s agenda is still decidedly progressive.
"The most progressive thing we can do in Manitoba right now is fix our health-care system. Because health care needs to be there for all of us," he said, noting also that his party’s plan is "realistic (and) responsible."
Lamont argued his party’s plan is "absolutely" realistic, too. Still, the Grits have yet to release a fully-costed platform and he couldn’t commit to when that would happen Thursday.
Advance polls open next week and the official Election Day is Sept. 10.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, August 22, 2019 at 7:11 PM CDT: Updates headline