While most of the country is focussing on summer vacations and the odd SNC Lavalin scandal, Manitobans are in the midst of a provincial election campaign. First elected with a record majority in April 2016, the Progressive Conservatives, led by Premier Brian Pallister have opted for an early election call citing the 150-anniversary celebrations in Manitoba slated for 2020 would be an inappropriate time to campaign. Additionally, the NDP and Liberal provincial parties have rookie leaders and are in a rebuilding mode. This combined with competing for resources from their federal counterparts heading into the October federal election will also put a strain on their efforts.

At present no one is predicting a change in government. Most are of the view that maintaining the record size caucus will be difficult to achieve, but that a comfortable majority is likely in the cards for the incumbent PC government.

The Leaders

Brian Pallister – Progressive Conservative

Clearly the most experienced of the major party leaders, Premier Pallister first entered public office as a provincial MLA through a by-election in 1992. As a member of Gary Filmon’s cabinet in his second term as an MLA, Pallister was focused on red tape reduction and increased government efficiencies. Following a stint as a federal Alliance and Conservative MP, Pallister continued to build his financial services company and re-entered provincial politics in 2012 as the newly minted leader of the PC Party and Official Opposition. He led the PCs to a 40 of 57 seat victory in 2016 and became Manitoba’s 22nd premier.

Wab Kinew – New Democratic Party

While Kinew may be a political novice, his public career propelled him into the leadership of the NDP seat in 2017, a mere year after winning his seat in the Manitoba legislature. Kinew gained notoriety as a CBC broadcaster and rapper. He spent several years as a university administrator as the vice-president of Indigenous Affairs. Kinew had a number of legal issues during his 20s that included impaired driving, and assault that has led many to believe that will come back to haunt his electoral chances for becoming premier.

Dugald Lamont – Liberal Party

A long time Liberal staffer and activist, Lamont ran and won as an outsider for the Liberal leadership in 2017 and subsequently elected through a by-election in 2018. He is not viewed a major political threat in the province where the Liberals have been the third party since 1990.

The Issues

The Tories rose to victory after 17 years of NDP rule. The key to their victory was the state of government spending and a provincial sales tax increase. Over the course of the first three years, the number priority of the provincial government has been to get spending under control. To a large degree, the PCs have been successful at reigning in spending. Additionally, the PCs focused on health care reforms including the closure of ERs in Winnipeg, which has received negative coverage.

This election will focus on what most provincial elections do – education and health. The PCs will focus on their financial management record while opening the purse strings for funding announcements as a result of expenditure reductions that occurred during the first term.

The NDP are banking on the ER closures and other health reforms as the key to improving their seat totals. A promise to restore ERs and hire more nurses and add new care-home beds were early campaign plank announcements.

Conversely, the PCs announced a $2B announcement on August 14 for the construction of a new ER and other infrastructure funding. That same day, the NDP announced two free hours of parking at Winnipeg hospitals.

On August 15, the PCs announced a plan to build 13 new schools over the next 10 years.

The Tight Races

The major battlegrounds for the 2019 campaign will occur in Winnipeg. There are a number of seats the NDP believe they can take back from the major losses that occurred in 2016. The NDP are strongest in the north west portion of the city but look to regain seats in the northeast where one of the hospital ER closures took place.

Key constituency races include:

Transcona – traditionally an NDP stronghold, this seat went blue in 2016 on a wave.

McPhillips – a recent boundary review added some conservative vote rich rural elements to the seat, but history has been very much NDP.

St. Vital – known as a swing seat, this constituency has gone back and forth depending on what party formed government.

Rossmere – a seat formerly held by long time conservative Vic Toews. Also a seat that he lost in a general election while a sitting cabinet minister.

St. Boniface – the Liberal leader faces a challenge to hold his own seat as the NDP will be putting a lot of resources into getting it back.

Tyndall Park  – currently held by the NDP, the Liberals are betting that they can win the seat through their candidate who was in an adjacent seat.

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John Morris is a former Manitoba provincial political staffer and Associate at New West Public Affairs.