Editorial: Manitobans could be voting in two elections this year

As we approach the third anniversary of Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives taking power for the first time since the turn of the century in the last provincial election held April 19, 2016, it’s looking like the province’s voters might be heading to the polls before the fixed election date set for October 2020.

The fixed election date isn’t really fixed, as there is an escape clause that allows that legislature to be dissolved at any time by the lieutenant-governor, and Premier Brian Pallister has not only refused to rule out an early election, but dropped a hint last week that perhaps it would be coming in the next nine months.

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Speaking at an event where plans were unveiled for Manitoba’s 150th anniversary in 2020, Pallister told the media that perhaps that year would be set aside for non-partisan celebrations.

“I’ve actually had a lot of Manitobans tell me they don’t want us to combine political stuff with our (anniversary) party, so I’ve heard from Manitobans already that they would prefer that 2020 be the year that we celebrate something ... that unites us, doesn’t necessarily divide us,” the Canadian Press quoted Pallister as saying. “I agree with us partying like it’s never happened before in 2020 and making sure that Manitoba is the focus of our attention.”

A little more than a month before that, Pallister said that the election had to be held by Oct. 6 of next year, and didn’t necessarily need to be on that particular date.

“It isn’t a fixed election date. It’s a drop-dead date,” Pallister told the CBC. “You’ve got to have the election before a year (from) this October. That’s what the rules are.”

The Progressive Conservatives have already nominated candidates for the next election in 28 of the province’s 57 constituencies, more than a year-and-a-half before the election has to be held.

More telling, the PC government has been making the sort of announcements lately that are often seen in the run-up to an election, like six new dialysis spaces at the Thompson General Hospital, and 72 around the province, as well as a one percentage point cut in the provincial sales tax from eight per cent back to the seven per cent it previously was, one of the main election promises the party made before being elected in 2016. The first of those two announcements, along with the opening of a new emergency department in Flin Flon, was enough to bring the premier north, his March 18 appearance in Thompson marking just his second public appearance in the city since his government was elected, and coming less than a year after his previous drop-in last August, which was his first public visit to the city since becoming premier more than two years before that. A few weeks earlier, Justice Minister Cliff Cullen was in Thompson to announce spending from the criminal proceeds forfeiture fund that had already been announced in December. Basically, campaign mode is in effect.

When the election will take place is still up in the air, though it won’t likely come before summer, since Pallister said he wouldn’t hold an election while southern Manitoba was on flood watch. When it does, however, it will be interesting to see what the addition of Gillam, Churchill and Nelson House does to the governing party’s chances of taking the Thompson electoral division for a second time after it was firmly held by former NDP MLA Steve Ashton for more than a third of a century beginning in 1981. Ultimately, though, despite the recent flurry, by Thompson standards, of ministers visiting the city, the north probably will not play a decisive role in which party become the next government. With 40 out of 57 seats right now, the PCs could lose nearly a third of their MLAs and still have a majority in the legislature. They have made some unpopular decisions but it might not be wise to bet on them being a one-term anomaly, especially since they hold the power to pull the trigger and call an election when the timing is right for them.

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