By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister gave his strongest signal yet of an early election, as the spring sitting of the legislature wound down Monday before the summer break.
Pallister paid tribute in question period to legislature members who are not running in the next election, including New Democrats Rob Altemeyer and James Allum and Independent Cliff Graydon.
Those politicians have promised to stay on until the next election, which is scheduled for Oct. 6, 2020.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the only reason for Pallister to bid them farewell now is that an election will likely be called before the legislature is scheduled to resume in October.
“That tells me that this is the last day of the 41st legislature,” Kinew said.
Pallister did not answer media questions Monday about election timing. He said he would talk to reporters Tuesday about the legislature sitting.
Pallister has hinted for months that he may call an election a year or more ahead of schedule, in order to avoid clashing with the province’s 150th anniversary celebrations next year.
The governing Progressive Conservatives have strong support in opinion polls, are flush with cash and were elected in 2016 with the biggest majority Manitoba government in a century.
Pallister said in recent media interviews that he would not want to hold a provincial election close to the federal one slated for this October. He said September is one possible preference for a provincial vote.
The legislature sat late into the night Monday as more than a dozen bills were debated and approved in a final vote, including one to reduce the provincial sales tax to seven per cent from eight per cent as of July 1. The tax cut was a key campaign promise in 2016.
The same law will reduce rebates political candidates receive for campaign expenses. The Tory government wanted to eliminate the rebates entirely but the opposition forced a compromise.
Another new law will allow police officers to impose immediate roadside licence suspensions for drivers based on blood-alcohol content. A third will require political candidates to disclose any criminal convictions when they run for office.
The spectre of an early election comes as opposition parties are still rebuilding after the 2016 vote.
There was a sign of division in the NDP ranks Monday as longtime legislature member Flor Marcelino gave her farewell speech in the chamber. Marcelino defended Mohinder Saran, who was kicked out of the NDP caucus in 2017 over an accusation he sexually harassed a subordinate.
Saran, who now sits as an Independent, denied the accusation. Marcelino told the legislature Saran was treated wrongly.
“I was deeply touched when my colleague was mistakenly accused of something he did not do,” Marcelino said.
“I believe in due time my friend will be vindicated.”