Manitoba will be going to the polls early as Premier Brian Pallister has ordered his government into a communications blackout and has indicated an election call is coming a year before the province’s fixed voting date.
After months of speculation that his government would call an early election, Mr. Pallister said on Tuesday that it would be inappropriate to hold a vote as required by legislation in October of 2020 because the province will be celebrating its 150th anniversary at that time. Instead, he warned an election call is forthcoming.
Declining to name a specific date for the election, Mr. Pallister said his government would be entering a self-imposed communications blackout within days that would require the province’s most senior civil servant to approve all advertising from the government and Crown corporations.
“I’m going to put that into play right now,” Mr. Pallister said of the blackout. “We’re not going to be using taxpayers’ money to promote our election chances. Drawing that distinction is important.”
Under Manitoba law, the provincial government is restricted in its public communications for the 90 days before a voting date. However, Mr. Pallister said he would speak with reporters on a weekly basis during the blackout.
An election call in the late summer could overlap with the campaign for the federal election, scheduled for Oct. 21.
The Premier’s argument that a provincial election shouldn’t overlap with anniversary festivities is not a valid reason, according to a number of political scientists in Manitoba. Instead, they say it’s more likely Mr. Pallister is preparing for an early election because his Progressive Conservatives are flush with cash and more popular than the opposition.
A 1-per-cent cut to the provincial sales tax scheduled for July 1 is expected to increase the Premier’s popularity, according to Paul Thomas, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba.
“To me it seems a weak reason to rush into a fall election. I don’t think most Manitobans would know that it’s our 150th anniversary next year. I don’t think there’s going to be such a cloud of festivity and drunkenness that we won’t be able to pay attention to an election,” Prof. Thomas said.
There are also concerns the provincial economy could worsen significantly in the next year and the public could react poorly if significant reforms made recently to the province’s health-care and education systems cause problems, he added.
“He knows if he goes to the polls now, he’s going to win the election. Things can change a lot in a year and he might not want to wait for that unknown,” said Chris Adams, an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Manitoba.
Asked by reporters in a confrontational exchange if he would be violating the rules of the province’s fixed-elections legislation, Mr. Pallister told them: “You’ll have to read the legislation.” He refused to explain how he would be respecting the law.
Mr. Pallister was first elected as Premier in 2016 with the strongest majority government Manitoba had seen in a century. He ended nearly 17 years of NDP rule, partly on a wave of public anger after the former government had pushed through a hike to the sales tax. After dominating Manitoba’s politics since the 1960s, the New Democrats are rebuilding under Leader Wab Kinew. Despite lagging in most polls, the party’s support has been slowly increasing in Winnipeg.
Speaking with reporters, Mr. Kinew said the Premier needs to announce an election date. “The Premier is playing games. I don’t think this is fair to the people of Manitoba,” he said. “Just tell us when the election date is going to be so Manitobans can make up their mind.”