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Pallister’s possible early birthday ‘gift’ to voters is irresponsible

Have you ever received a gift you didn’t want? What did you do?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/04/2019 (1395 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Have you ever received a gift you didn’t want? What did you do?

Re-gift it? Donate it? Toss it?

Last week, at the kickoff event leading to Manitoba’s 150th-birthday celebrations in 2020, Premier Brian Pallister mused about calling an early provincial election, and the “gift” at which he was hinting is a Manitoba 150 bash uninterrupted by an election campaign.

“I’ve heard from Manitobans already that they would prefer that 2020 be the year that we celebrate something other than politics,” the premier said, “something that unites us and doesn’t necessarily divide us.”

David Lipnowski / The Canadian Press files Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

According to Manitoba law, a provincial election must be held on the first Tuesday in October in the fourth calendar year after election day. This sets Manitoba’s fixed election date as Oct. 6, 2020.

The law is designed to create electoral consistency while discouraging incumbent governments from calling Manitobans to the polls whenever it most suits the party in power. It’s to ensure that all political parties play by the same rules.

The law also states, however, that the lieutenant-governor can dissolve the legislature at his or her own discretion — in other words: at the advice of the premier.

Mr. Pallister, it appears, is playing with the idea of giving Manitobans an early birthday gift by sending them to the polls this year.

“There’s no reason to have partisanship interfere with a great party for our province,” he told reporters, “I think it’s a great idea to put our province ahead of politics.”

The suggestion that Manitobans can’t do both is, quite frankly, nonsensical.

Dropping the writ early would shield the 150th celebrations from the media blackouts imposed during elections. Manitoba’s Election Financing Act restricts governments from advertising their agendas or programs during campaign periods — something that might prove problematic during a provincially funded and promoted celebration.

Going to the polls early might be construed as arrogance on Mr. Pallister’s part, but he has reason to be confident. His party is flush with fundraising dollars, sizably ahead in the polls and has delivered on some key economic promises it made three years ago. Manitoba’s deficit is dropping, provincial spending has been reined in, and the provincial sales tax has been cut, as pledged, by one percentage point — which Manitobans are reminded of daily in taxpayer-funded advertisements.

But talk of a provincial election in 2019 — a federal election year — is decidedly premature. Voters tend not to like being sent to the polls early and expect governments to deliver the mandate they were elected to deliver. Mr. Pallister has much more road to travel.

It remains to be seen how eliminating $325 million in revenue (the cost of the PST cut) will affect the delivery of provincial services, while the full impact, for better or worse, of his government’s austerity agenda is only beginning to be seen.

Voters tend not to like being sent to the polls early and expect governments to deliver the mandate they were elected to deliver. Mr. Pallister has much more road to travel.

Emergency room wait times, overtaxed justice and child welfare systems and a full-blown opioid crisis in Manitoba have stretched justice, health and social services to the breaking point. The province’s health-care overhaul is far from finished, and a reorganization of Manitoba’s education system awaits.

The Pallister government has much more governing to do; toying with the idea of an early election justified by a 2020 birthday-party plan is frivolous and irresponsible.

Such an unwanted present from the premier might be re-gifted by voters in a manner that doesn’t fully suit his electoral aspirations.

History

Updated on Friday, April 5, 2019 9:11 PM CDT: Corrects typo in headline.

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