By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is not ruling out an early election.
When asked Tuesday, Stefanson said she has not made any decision about the timing of the election currently scheduled for Oct. 3 of next year.
“I will commit to having an election on or before that date, obviously,” Stefanson said.
“There’s lots of speculation, different things out there that are being said. But that’s a decision that we will make as a government moving forward.”
Stefanson’s predecessor, Brian Pallister, called the last election in 2019, a year ahead of when it was scheduled. The Progressive Conservatives were riding high in opinion polls at the time and won a second consecutive majority mandate.
Stefanson faces different circumstances. Opinion polls over the last two years have consistently suggested the Tories have seen their support drop sharply while the Opposition New Democrats have surged. Pallister resigned last year and Stefanson was elected by party members to replace him two months later.
The Tories have been under fire over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. At one point, dozens of intensive-care patients were flown to other provinces because of a shortage of beds.
One political analyst said the Tories may be tempted to go early despite the low polling, and use the budget next spring as a launch point.
“When they do a spring budget, then they can give all the goodies and then advertise what’s in that budget and then call a spring election,” said Christopher Adams, adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
There has been no evidence so far of a flurry of pre-election activities in the Tory camp. The party is only now starting the nomination process to field candidates in the province’s 57 constituencies.
Stefanson said her focus now is on health care and other issues. She announced a $12.5-million training centre Tuesday for health-care students at Red River College.
Stefanson has also yet to call a byelection in the Kirkfield Park seat in Winnipeg, vacated by former cabinet minister Scott Fielding in June. That vote must be held by mid-December under provincial law.
The Opposition New Democrats said they will be ready whenever the election is called. The NDP have closed the fundraising gap with the Tories in recent years and have nominated candidates in more than 30 seats.
“We feel like we’re ready,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
“Of course, we’ve got to stay humble and keep in mind that we have to campaign like we’re always one vote behind.”