As the provincial election campaign entered its final hours, and with the composition of Manitoba’s next legislature at stake, the four main political parties spent Monday shoring up support in winnable constituencies and urging supporters to vote.
Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister and NDP Leader Wab Kinew participated in morning photo-ops, at which they underscored main campaign themes.
Pallister was to spend the rest of Monday and election day with his family. As he traditionally does on the eve of an election, the PC leader trekked to the family farmstead near Portage la Prairie and went for a run.
Kinew said he planned to campaign in Winnipeg, but when asked where, he coyly told reporters to watch his social media accounts for clues.
After making an announcement on climate change, during which he called for an end to single-use plastics, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont also hit the campaign trail, including an event with Fort Richmond candidate Tanjit Nagra.
Green Leader James Beddome eschewed a last-day photo-op or announcement and spent the day pounding the pavement in Fort Rouge, where he is running against Kinew.
Recent polling points to the PCs likely winning a second-consecutive majority government Tuesday. In 2016, the party ended nearly 17 years of NDP rule, winning an impressive 40-seat majority in the 57-seat legislature.
What’s unknown is whether the PC leader will pay a political price for opting to call an election more than a year before the fixed election date of Oct. 6, 2020.
On Monday, the Tories held a small rally on the south side of the Manitoba Legislative Building, the same place where they kicked off their campaign four weeks earlier.
PC candidates chanted "four more years" as Brian and Esther Pallister arrived on Assiniboine Avenue, to which the leader replied he "couldn’t agree more."
Pallister, however, cautioned Manitobans to disregard polls that have shown the Tories ahead in voter support. He emphasized the race in many ridings will be "very, very close."
"We need to have every Manitoban go out and vote tomorrow, and I would say to everyone that wants to move forward tomorrow: don’t believe the polls. Your vote matters," he said.
Kinew wrapped up his campaign by advising Manitobans to vote for his party if they want to prevent four more years of Pallister at the helm on Broadway.
"We are the team that has the opportunity to form government on Tuesday. Right now, it’s a two-horse race," the NDP leader said. "If you don’t want Brian Pallister to be your next premier, then you have to vote for the Manitoba NDP."
The PCs ran a tightly controlled, error-free, front-runner campaign that minimized opportunities for gaffes by their outspoken and, at times, testy leader. Pallister only participated in one leaders debate, rejecting a forum planned by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and declining another such invitation in Brandon.
The Tories focused their re-election bid around a handful of themes, promising more tax relief, more job creation and vowing to maintain and enhance funding for health care. Their biggest surprise was the announcement — once the province’s budget is balanced — they would begin phasing out the education portion of Manitoba property tax bills.
The NDP exploited concerns about the Progressive Conservatives’ health-care reforms, promising to reverse two Winnipeg emergency room closures, hire more nurses, and focus greater attention on community-based health care.
For Kinew, who is completing his first election campaign as party leader, a significant improvement on the party’s 14-seat showing in 2016 is critical. If that doesn’t happen, he could be open to a leadership challenge.
For the Liberals, maintaining party status in the legislature — four seats — and building upon that total would be a positive foundation for the future.
Lamont said Monday he hopes to see a minimum of 10 Liberal candidates elected.
"We have a huge opportunity. People do not have to go back and choose the NDP or the PCs because elections aren’t actually determined by parties, they’re determined by people," he said.
For the Greens, winning a single seat — David Nickarz in Wolseley offers the best opportunity — would be a major victory.
Meanwhile, Lamont said, if elected, his party would reintroduce a motion to declare a climate emergency in Manitoba and a bill to phase out single-use plastics (such as bags and straws) and polystyrene containers by 2025.
Lamont was adamant neither a PC nor an NDP government would do enough to protect the environment.
"The decisions made by governments in the next 18 months are what is going to make the difference. Both the PCs and the NDP are offering total surrender on this issue because they’re choosing cynical political games over an issue that is important to everyone," he said.
Kinew spent several minutes highlighting his campaign platform Monday, speaking on a patch of green space at the University of Winnipeg, where he was once employed.
At one point during a question-and-answer session with reporters, a passerby interrupted proceedings by asking the NDP leader a question of his own.
"What are you going to do with the homeless?" the man asked.
Kinew replied the NDP would build more public housing, enhance Employment and Income Assistance benefits and "transform it to a basic income."
"And that’s a promise?" the man asked.
"Yes it is," Kinew said.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.