By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s three main party leaders traded barbs over taxes, the economy, health care and social media Monday as they squared off in a 90-minute debate on radio station CJOB.
There were no knockout punches as the leaders stuck close to their talking points, but there were lively exchanges, primarily over which tax plan is best for the province going into the April 19 election.
Premier Greg Selinger, whose government has raised the provincial sales tax, gas tax and other levies, was the main target.
“We’ve seen the largest tax hikes under this government of any Canadian province,” Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said. “Even with that additional half-billion in revenue this year … this premier is still running massive, massive deficits.”
Selinger said his fiscal plan allows the government to spend money on infrastructure projects, create jobs and boost the fragile economy. He accused the Tories and Liberals of promising tax cuts that would hurt the economy, and went head-to-head with Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari over her promise to eliminate the province’s payroll tax, which applies to companies with salaries totalling $1.25 million a year or more.
“You’re giving money away to the big banks and the corporations, we’re helping…” Selinger started.
“Do you’re math, Greg. It’s $1.25 million,” Bokhari interjected
“We’re helping solve…” Selinger continued.
“Do the math. Do the math. You’re wrong,” Bokhari continued.
The Liberals, who have just one legislature seat, have yet to indicate how they will pay for the promised tax cut. They have said the cut will be phased in once the provincial budget is balanced, but have not committed to a date by which they would balance it.
There was a moment of levity when Bokhari went after Pallister over online communications. The Tory leader said young Manitobans are leaving for other provinces and one grandmother complained to him that she could only talk to her grandchildren via Skype.
“Brian, I appreciate you talking about Skype. But in the 21st century, it’s Snapchat.”
The radio debate came as a new opinion poll suggested the NDP may be rebounding after more than two years of trailing far behind the Tories.
The survey, by Mainstreet Research for the Postmedia newspaper chain, suggests the Tories have the support of 43 per cent of decided or leaning voters — down seven points from a similar poll a month ago. NDP support is up six points to 27 per cent while the Liberals have remained relatively unchanged at 24 per cent.
Inside Winnipeg — home to more than half the province’s legislature seats — the Tories and NDP are in a virtual tie among decided and leaning voters, the poll suggests.
The random telephone survey was conducted on Saturday and involved 1,764 respondents. The margin of error for such a sample size is plus or minus 2.33 per cent, 19 times out of 20.