Now that the anticlimactic moment has passed, it’s time to get down to the serious business of foregone conclusions.
On Monday afternoon, Premier Brian Pallister made official what had been known and, for all intents and purposes, fully in motion since late June. After paying a visit to Government House to ask Lt. Gov. Janice Filmon to dissolve the legislature, Mr. Pallister strode purposefully back to a podium on the south lawn of the legislative grounds to confirm the Sept. 10 election date and declare the 29-day campaign officially in motion.
Given the manner in which he had foreshadowed his visit to the lieutenant-governor’s residence by setting in motion an "unofficial" campaign some seven weeks earlier, the element of surprise was not a factor on Monday. And considering the current polling realities of Manitoba politics, there’s really no chance next month’s vote will generate anything in the way of a surprise, either.
As surely as a Winnipeg driver’s windshield needs scraping on a February morning, Mr. Pallister and his PC government are headed for a second term in power. The only question is the size of the majority, and whether either of Manitoba’s other competing parties will be able to claim "victory" because of an incremental seat gain at the Pallister government’s expense.
However, while the outcome is almost certainly not in doubt, each of Manitoba’s major political parties will necessarily view the Sept. 10 result as a referendum on its current leadership.
Mr. Pallister, despite being all but assured of victory and another majority government, has his political legacy to consider. At age 65, it’s likely that his second term as premier will be his last; a result that maintains or improves on the PCs’ massive 40-seat majority will signify that Manitobans have accepted his tough-love style of governing and are willing to let him see his plan through.
For the New Democrats, the 2019 election will show how much progress their leader, Wab Kinew, has made in distancing the current version of the NDP from the one that, under premier Greg Selinger, was summarily rejected by voters in 2016.
If the NDP can improve significantly on the meagre total of 14 seats it was able to retain, it will be a signal that Mr. Kinew has started to turn things in the right direction.
However, if the Sept. 10 vote delivers 14 seats or fewer, the NDP will be faced with hard questions about whether Mr. Kinew is the person who can lead it out of the political wilderness.
For Manitoba’s Liberal party, the test built into next month’s election is about one thing: relevance. Dougald Lamont has been visible and vocal since stepping into the leadership role in October 2017, and like all distant third-party leaders, he has the luxury of being able to run a campaign filled with lofty promises on which he knows he’ll never have to deliver.
But to demonstrate that he is the man of the moment for Manitoba Liberals, Mr. Lamont must achieve a marked improvement on his party’s current four-seat total.
While no one expects the Lamont-led Liberals to replicate the miraculous 20-seat resurgence accomplished under Sharon Carstairs in 1988, it’s imperative for Mr. Lamont’s future as leader that the Liberals make gains in 2019 rather than remaining static or losing seats.
The outcome of the election might be preordained, but for the figureheads of Manitoba’s political parties, there’s a lot — leadership, legacy, legitimacy — on the line.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.