In a political debate with few shockers, the sniping also came as no surprise.

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This article was published 14/9/2011 (3689 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Conservative Leader Hugh at Wednesday night's debate.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Conservative Leader Hugh at Wednesday night's debate.

In a political debate with few shockers, the sniping also came as no surprise.

Only one day after an acrimonious debate in Brandon, leaders of the three major provincial parties squared off on Wednesday night at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre. The top issues: health care, housing costs and honesty.

The leaders forum, hosted by Winnipeg REALTORS and the Manitoba Real Estate Association, was broadcast on Shaw TV. It was the first televised debate of the campaign.

A relaxed Premier Greg Selinger banters with the audience before Wednesday's debate.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A relaxed Premier Greg Selinger banters with the audience before Wednesday's debate.

Speaking in front of a crowd of many political staffers and party volunteers, the leaders rarely stepped off-message — but they didn’t wait long before whipping out the boxing gloves.

On the first question — what scares the leaders most about the future of Manitoba’s economy — Conservative head Hugh McFadyen took his first swing, on what he later called a "phony" NDP plan to balance the budget in three years.

"What he’s not telling Manitobans is that he’s going to do it with a large tax increase," McFadyen said.

NDP Leader Greg Selinger called that accusation "false" and said it was "a bogeyman." 

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard faces off against NDP Leader Greg Selinger and Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen Wednesday night in a leaders debate.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard faces off against NDP Leader Greg Selinger and Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen Wednesday night in a leaders debate.

He fired back with questions about McFadyen’s role in the Filmon government’s decision to privatize MTS in the mid-90s.

The debate spread across several topics, including the province’s role in supporting northern First Nations and the roots of violent crime in Winnipeg. But in between tackling those issues, the leaders repeatedly returned to the question of who they think Manitobans can trust.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said Manitobans don’t trust McFadyen on the issue of whether a Tory government would privatize Hydro and Manitoba Public Insurance.

McFadyen replied it would not.

McFadyen turned to Selinger and said Manitobans don’t trust the premier "after 12 years… of saying you’re going to end hallway medicine, and breaking that promise."

But when McFadyen held up a photo of an ambulance waiting to drop off a patient at an emergency room, the premier pounced.

"Those are messes that we cleaned up that you left behind," Selinger said, citing what he called an NDP record of adding more than 100 new ambulances and many more paramedics to Manitoba since wresting government from the Tories in 1999.

When not hammering away at the honesty issue, the leaders largely stuck to their scripts.

McFadyen touted the Tories’ plans to eliminate the land-transfer tax for first-time homebuyers and end "political interference" and improve openness at Manitoba Hydro.

Selinger ducked the question about the land-transfer tax, instead pledging to build more housing. But he did emphasize a promise to limit kindergarten through Grade 3 class sizes to 20 students or fewer, and pushed plans to train workers in northern Manitoba to fix infrastructure.

Gerrard, meanwhile, hinted he would make a promise to limit wait-times for medical treatment.

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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