With the speed at which Manitoba’s political parties are nominating candidates, you’d think an election was coming.
Eighteen months away from the province’s next fixed election date, the governing Progressive Conservative party has already nominated half of its slate of candidates.
And just this week, the Opposition New Democratic Party picked its first two candidates, and the Liberals announced nomination meetings for their four MLAs.
The parties seem poised for an election as early as this spring, mused Paul Thomas, a retired political scientist from the University of Manitoba.
“I think it’s been prompted by, as I say, the premier’s speculation that he might go early,” Thomas said.
Signs of spring election
There’s credence to the “spec-election” talk, as Brian Pallister likes to call it — he hasn’t ruled out an early election, for one.
He’s insisted the fixed election date of Oct. 6, 2020, is not set in stone, but rather the last possible date that ballots can be cast.
Pallister told reporters earlier this month, without being asked, that he wouldn’t hold an election during a “flood watch.”
Speculation is also fuelled by the fact his government cut the provincial sales tax by one percentage point a year earlier than expected, and his party is nominating candidates in quick succession.
PCs have nominated 28 candidates
With that said, the New Democrats aren’t wasting any time.
“We’re looking to get everyone in place, probably before the end of May,” said Ellen Olfert, co-chair of the party’s election planning committee, “just so that we are ready whenever the premier decides that he’s going to call an election.”
She said the party would be making preparations at this stage regardless of whether or not the election will be called earlier than 2020, but the end of May deadline is one of her own making.
“And with the groundswell of anger around health-care issues and education issues coming up, it’s a good time to get candidates and volunteers working,” she said.
The Tories began a flurry of nomination meetings in mid-January by acclaiming 13 of their MLAs to carry the party banner once again. Since then, the party has doubled its roster of candidates to 28 in the province’s 57 constituencies.
Among them, Jon Reyes will represent the renamed Waverley constituency in Winnipeg, while Andrew Smith shifts from Southdale to the new Winnipeg riding of Lagimodière.
The party’s candidates are all sitting MLAs, except for Audrey Gordon in Southdale and Nancy Cooke in Fort Garry.
Gordon, the PC’s representative in the hotly contested Fort Rouge race in 2016, works as director with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s home care program. Cooke, a business owner who sought a Winnipeg city council seat last fall, is a former campaign director for the Tories.
The party has had a “very aggressive” nomination schedule because it had to wait until the process of redrawing riding boundaries concluded in December, said PC Party CEO Keith Stewart.
Normally, the party would have a few candidates in place two years from an election, he said. That couldn’t happen this time around.
“We had to wait until that review took place, so we have a little bit of catch-up to do.”
He wouldn’t entertain questions about whether a potential early election is influencing the nomination process.
“We don’t have any control here in this building over when that [election] might happen, so we just want to get ready.”
Next month, Tory members will acclaim Scott Johnston in place of the ousted party member Steven Fletcher in Assiniboia and James Teitsma in Radisson.
The only contested nomination for the PCs so far is in south-central Manitoba’s Borderland. The renamed electoral division is currently represented by Cliff Graydon, who was kicked out of the PC caucus last year.
Party members will choose either Josh Guenter, Verna Heinrichs, Liz Hildebrand or Jordan Siemens as their next representative.
2 NDP nominees so far, Liberals plan meetings
The NDP nominated their first candidates this week: two-term MLA Jim Maloway in Elmwood, and former Brandon city councillor Lonnie Patterson, who will try to reclaim Brandon East from the Tories.
Meanwhile, the Liberals announced nomination meetings in April to acclaim their sitting MLAs.
Leader Dougald Lamont is running unopposed for the St. Boniface nomination on April 23, and Judy Klassen, who flirted with running federally, is expected to be acclaimed for Kewatinook on April 24.
We don’t feel the need that we have to run out and make sure we have a warm body.
– David Engel , Manitoba Liberal Party vice-president
The week after, the party will nominate Cindy Lamoureux — in Tyndall Park rather than the Burrows riding she now represents — and Jon Gerrard in River Heights.
David Engel, Manitoba Liberal vice-president, said his party isn’t rushing its nomination process.
“We don’t feel the need that we have to run out and make sure we have a warm body,” he said. “We’ll get the right people and we’ll have strong candidates in every constituency.
“We don’t feel the need to rush unless it’s forced on us.”
Thomas said the opposition parties have no choice but to call themselves prepared, especially if they fashion themselves as a government-in-waiting.
He thinks the NDP and Liberals would have to improvise if the election comes after the flood threat subsides, but before the summer.
“They will try to have candidates run in all 57 constituencies, but they’ll be creating a campaign on the run,” Thomas said.
“It’ll be made day-by-day, in panic mode, probably.”