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Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba and Premier Brian Pallister, at a leaders' debate at CBC in Winnipeg, Aug. 28, 2019.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister took shots at labour Friday as the party filed two complaints against a union over an advertising campaign, but labour leaders rebutted the accusations as laughable and a distraction from real issues.

The clash between labour and the PCs is par for the course, said one political analyst, who suggested it will rile up supporters as the third week of campaigning for the Sept. 10 election wraps up.

“It’s less than two weeks away from the election so the timing is not accidental,” said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

The Tories filed two complaints against Unifor with the commissioner of elections over advertising on billboards and in bus shelters. The PCs claim the advertisements cost much more than the $25,000 allowed for third parties under Manitoba’s election laws.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias responded in a statement that “Pallister is panicking” and that rules had been followed.

The PCs also accused the Manitoba Federation of Labour of engaging in a direct mail campaign that breaks the law.

At a campaign stop at which Pallister reannounced multiple promises directed at seniors, he accused the labour federation of wanting higher taxes, opposing balanced budgets and deciding the agenda of the Manitoba New Democrats.

“Of course, they control the NDP,” Pallister said.

He added that his party’s internal polling is showing more support from front-line union workers than any PC party has had for many years.

“Union members don’t want higher taxes and they don’t want higher union dues either,” he said.

The election law, brought in under the Tory government, is being followed, said labour federation president Kevin Rebeck, who criticized Pallister for “putting words in the mouth of labour.”

“Maybe he should speak and engage with labour,” Rebeck said.

Accusations against and from unions are expected during any election, said David Camfield, associate professor of labour studies at the University of Manitoba. They can also be used to ramp up support as election day nears, he suggested.

Camfield called the campaign lacklustre and said it shouldn’t shock anyone that the accusations surfaced near the end of the campaign.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all in a campaign that hasn’t seen a lot of engagement that the Conservatives would use this opportunity to try to draw attention to this allegation in order to put wind in the sails of their base.”

The PCs and the New Democrats have accused each other of breaking the rules throughout the campaign. The NDP has complained to the provincial ombudsman about a government news release and to the elections commissioner about a Progressive Conservative video which used footage shot in the premier’s office.

The Tories have complained to the elections commissioner about a couple of recent campaign events held by NDP Leader Wab Kinew at a public school and a university.

Thomas said complaints have become a “bit of a symbolic game” and he predicted there will be no real sanctions except bad publicity.

Also Friday, Kinew gave more details on a promise to cap postsecondary tuition increases to no more than the rate of inflation. He also said he would budget $6 million annually to increase operating grants.

Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont was in Norway House campaigning.

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