Pallister appears determined to run on not-quite-done record

He is so going to do this.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/06/2019 (1398 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

He is so going to do this.

Premier Brian Pallister wrapped up the current session of the Manitoba legislature with his most unequivocal statements to date that Manitoba will have a general election this summer. And this time, he actually provided some details about when we might expect the writ to drop.

Pallister told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that beginning in a few days, his government will begin restricting all government announcements and advertising that might contravene the 90-day communication blackout contained in the Election Finances Act. By confirming that he is effectively beginning the blackout, he is also confirming that a campaign will begin in early August for an election day sometime in early September, about a month before a federal election is scheduled.

Manitoba election campaigns run between 28 and 35 days, and the voting must be held on a Tuesday. If, for example, Pallister were to begin a blackout on Tuesday June 11, he could set an election for as early as Tuesday, Sept. 10. Although that would still be more than a full year earlier than the October 2020 date specified in law, he could claim with full justification he had honoured the spirit of the communications blackout.

Why would Pallister worry about the spirit of the blackout when he clearly isn’t losing sleep about the spirit of the fixed-date election law?

He has consistently argued that the fixed date in law — currently set for Oct. 6, 2020 — is merely the latest date by which the government of the day must hold an election. It’s an interpretation that makes a mockery of the whole notion of fixed-date elections, but it does not actually violate the law, allowing governments to go to the polls sooner if they so choose.

On the other hand, the blackout was created by the Progressive Conservatives back in opposition, and proposed as a friendly amendment when the former NDP government introduced fixed-date election law back in 2008. Pallister has a lot less cover to violate that part of the law.

There are also issues of fairness at stake.

While the democratic value of holding elections every four years on specified dates is highly debatable, the value of a 90-day communications blackout is quite clear; allowing a governing party to use taxpayer money to blitz the citizenry with thinly veiled partisan propaganda in the weeks leading up to an election campaign is a dastardly act. Violating that particular provision would not have been illegal, but it would have been immoral.

As for the allegation that he is still violating the spirit of the fixed-date election law, Pallister tried to justify his actions based on an accusation that he was really only doing what former NDP premier Gary Doer had done twice during his time as first minister. History does not support this assertion.

Doer became premier on Sept. 21, 1999 after defeating Premier Gary Filmon’s Progressive Conservatives. He was re-elected on June 3, 2003, which was three years and eight months after the previous election. Doer called his last election as NDP leader for May 22, 2007, three years and 11 months after the 2003 vote.

Yes, both elections took place less than four years after the previous vote. However, it’s important to note that Doer did not introduce the fixed-election law until 2008, a year after his final election as premier and one year before he retired from politics.

More importantly, Doer’s record does not change the fact that if Pallister does indeed take Manitobans to the polls on Sept. 10, it will be after only three years and four months in office. That would make Pallister’s first term the shortest for a premier with a majority mandate since 1969, when Progressive Conservative premier Walter Weir called a snap election after only three years and two days and ultimately relinquished power to Ed Schreyer and the NDP.

Perhaps it’s all starting to weigh on the premier’s conscience. Pallister appears to be growing more and more impatient with anyone who has the temerity to suggest he is violating the spirit of the fixed-date election law. This includes the journalists attending his Tuesday news conference.

“If you read the legislation,” Pallister snapped at one journalist, “you will see that I’m entirely abiding by the law.”

Perhaps, but the question of whether or not he’s abiding by the fixed-date law is not going to be the issue that determines the outcome of the next election. It will be the public’s opinion of his accomplishments to date, and whether Pallister has given himself enough time to turn his ideas into actions.

In the medley of his government’s greatest hits rolled out at the news conference, Pallister tried to list all the achievements of the past three years. There have been many things accomplished, but there are many as well that are really just vague ideas or broad intentions. That is most clearly represented in files such as the Winnipeg hospital reorganization.

In converting some Winnipeg emergency rooms into less-costly urgent care centres, Pallister may be doing the right thing by giving Winnipeggers the hospital services they actually need, instead of what they want. But with the affected hospitals in chaos and nurses readying for war, the proof of Pallister’s concept is still a year or more away. That may give some voters pause for concern.

We know the premier really, really wants an early election. For his sake and the future of his government, he better hope that voters want the same thing.

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

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.

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