By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister was being accused Tuesday of hiding from his opponents after plans for one leaders debate fell through and another seemed uncertain.
The Chamber of Commerce in Brandon, along with the Brandon Sun newspaper, had hoped to hold a leaders forum before the Sept. 10 election. A debate in the province’s second-largest city has been an election tradition. But the Tories backed out, said the newspaper’s editor, Matt Goerzen.
“Brian Pallister’s campaign team has informed us … that the premier will not be joining us in Brandon,” Goerzen posted on social media this week.
“As such, the chamber and the Sun have cancelled the debate.”
The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is planning to hold a similar event next week, but Pallister’s team has been noncommittal.
“He is currently scheduled to be outside the city campaigning that day,” Progressive Conservative communications staff wrote in an email Tuesday.
Pallister’s opponents said democracy was not being well-served.
“I don’t know why Brian Pallister called an early election if he didn’t plan to show up for it,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
Pallister bumped up the election more than a year ahead of the scheduled date of Oct. 6, 2020.
For now, the only debate to which he has committed is a 50-minute televised event Wednesday night put on by a consortium of Winnipeg TV outlets.
“Honestly, the more debates, the better, especially if we are going to be talking about issues that aren’t going to be limited to what we can talk about in 50 minutes on TV,” Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said.
Last week, Green Party Leader James Beddome placed a rubber chicken in front of an empty chair at a debate organized by an anti-poverty coalition and which Pallister declined to attend.
Pallister said he and his fellow Tories have been criss-crossing the province, door-knocking and taking part in electronic town-hall meetings.
“We’re excited about continuing to do our outreach and I’ll leave the management of the campaign to the managers of the campaign.”
Pallister has been running a front-runner-style campaign since he called the vote. His announcements have been mostly low-key, incremental increases on past actions.
Polls throughout this year have suggested the Tories have a solid lead over the New Democrats, but with a much closer race in vote-rich Winnipeg.
Pallister promised Tuesday to increase the biodiesel mandate — the minimum percentage of biofuels in diesel — to five per cent from two. For gasoline, the minimum percentage of ethanol would rise to 10 per cent from 8.5.
The changes would reduce emissions and be the equivalent of taking 75,000 cars off the road, Pallister said.
Kinew promised more money for mental-health services, including subsidized counselling and supports in public schools.
Lamont said a Liberal government would open a virtual addictions co-ordination centre. People could phone or go online to get help and guidance, similar to a service in Alberta aimed at opioid users.
And Beddome said he would apply a 20 per cent tax to all sugary beverages to try to drive down diabetes rates and raise $20 million a year for health care.
— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone