July 3, 2020

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Never-ending election campaign has yet to begin

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/7/2019 (338 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It may go down as the longest unofficial election campaign in Manitoba history.

Even those who have checked out of work and into their cottage finery must be aware the 2019 provincial push has started in earnest. Candidates are knocking on doors, pamphlets are being distributed, and party leaders are making promises.

There's only one small problem: the election has not officially begun.

When Premier Brian Pallister held a news conference on the sun-drenched southern lawns of the Manitoba legislature in June to confirm a general election would be held Sept. 10 — a full 13 months before he was required to do so by law — he inadvertently kicked off what is fast becoming a never-ending campaign.

Premier Brian Pallister announced last week that a re-elected PC government will eliminate probate fees on estates and PST on wills.

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Brian Pallister announced last week that a re-elected PC government will eliminate probate fees on estates and PST on wills.

Exactly when the official contest will begin remains a bit of a mystery. By law, Manitoba campaigns can last between four and five weeks. If Pallister were to opt for a 34-day option, he would have to drop the writ of election sometime around Aug. 7; a shorter campaign would push the date back until the week of Aug. 12.

Directors picked

Manitoba's three major political parties have chosen their campaign directors

The Progressive Conservatives will call once again on David McLaughlin to head up their campaign. An experienced political operative at both the federal and provincial levels, McLaughlin oversaw the Tories' successful 2016 Manitoba campaign. Following that victory, he helped draft the made-in-Manitoba carbon tax plan Premier Brian Pallister eventually abandoned.

Manitoba's three major political parties have chosen their campaign directors

The Progressive Conservatives will call once again on David McLaughlin to head up their campaign. An experienced political operative at both the federal and provincial levels, McLaughlin oversaw the Tories' successful 2016 Manitoba campaign. Following that victory, he helped draft the made-in-Manitoba carbon tax plan Premier Brian Pallister eventually abandoned.

The NDP are digging back into the glory days of the 2000s with the appointment of union organizer Bob Dewar. A member of former premier Gary Doer's brain trust, Dewar helped steer the NDP's successful 1999 election campaign. More recently, he ran the successful 2017 campaign for British Columbia NDP Premier John Horgan, which set the table for a historic coalition government with the Green party.

The Liberals were looking for new blood when they appointed Chris Bishop. A long-time staffer, Bishop has served as Leader Dougald Lamont's chief of staff for the past year. Although this is the first time she has run a province-wide campaign, the party describes her as an experienced community organizer and political researcher.

In anticipation, all three parties have been making a rash of declarations (some of which go back before Pallister confirmed the election date). The governing Progressive Conservatives have thrice called journalists to attend what were, in form and style, traditional campaign announcements, all dealing with the same subject: eliminating the provincial sales tax on a wider range of goods and services.

On July 8, it was a promise to eliminate the PST on home insurance. A week later, a promise PST would be removed on personal care services (such as hair cuts). A week after that, the removal of PST on probate services and wills.

All designed to remind voters the Tories had reduced the PST to seven per cent on July 1 (while also highlighting the tax policies of the former NDP government).

Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont spoke to media about creating an independent commission to review Manitoba’s tax system last week.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont spoke to media about creating an independent commission to review Manitoba’s tax system last week.

The NDP and leader Wab Kinew have been more active, holding about seven campaign-style events: a plan to open a downtown Winnipeg methamphetamine treatment centre (July 30); support for the mining sector (July 18); and the unveiling of the NDP climate action plan (May 31). The NDP also mixed in a handful of campaign-worthy news conferences to attack the Tories on health care — sure to be the defining issue in this election.

However, it has been the Liberals who have been most aggressive.

Leader Dougald Lamont has unleashed nine campaign-style announcements in the six weeks since Pallister confirmed the election day: no privatization of Crown corporations (July 31); creation of a fair tax commission (July 28), a "buy local" policy for procurement (July 26); Addictions Manitoba upgrades (July 19); eliminating regional health authorities (July 14); reviving life-saving drugs program (July 12); public transit investments (July 5); reopening Concordia Hospital and Seven Oaks General Hospital ERs (June 25); and a justice and policing policy (June 20).

Typically, political parties play it coy in the period before a writ of election is dropped, hoarding pledges, slogans and themes until the campaign is officially underway.

This year, however, all three major parties are demonstrating a decided lack of delayed gratification while leaping to the podium.

Wab Kinew, Leader of the Manitoba NDP reveals that the party has discovered through FIPPA information requests that the Conservative government has put together a scenario where MPI "no longer exists."

190705 - Friday, July 05, 2019.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Wab Kinew, Leader of the Manitoba NDP reveals that the party has discovered through FIPPA information requests that the Conservative government has put together a scenario where MPI "no longer exists." 190705 - Friday, July 05, 2019.

However, one has to wonder whether it will prove to be an effective strategy, particularly for the Liberals.

Even at 34 days, election campaigns are long, and it's difficult to continue earning headlines and voter attention the closer it gets to the vote. The Grits have already spun out policies on health care, environment and tax reform — big-ticket issues that will dominate the upcoming campaign.

Although there are other issues that will gain attention, it will be difficult for the Grits to get generate much news during the actual campaign by reiterating previously released policies. An early advantage in campaign announcements can turn on a political party if it runs out of things to stay with days or weeks left to go.

That is an unflattering look for any party looking to make a breakthrough.

The pre-writ campaigning Manitobans are seeing now will likely become more the norm than the exception in upcoming years. As the fixed-date election law becomes more engrained in the province's political culture, it will become necessary to engage in campaign-style events and policy statements on a more regular basis.

For political parties, it's an opportunity to get an early foothold in the psyche of voters. For political animals who simply love the thrust and parry of campaign dust-ups, it's pure heaven.

However, it's unclear there's much in this for voters. Unless this "go-big-and-go-early" strategy drives greater voter interest and turnout, it's really just an opportunity to placate anxious politicians who may not have the patience to wait for the actual campaign to start.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

Read full biography

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