By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson launched an election campaign Tuesday and promised more tax cuts if her Progressive Conservatives are re-elected Oct. 3.
“Manitobans need real relief and a real long-term commitment to affordability in the future,” Stefanson told a news conference flanked by cheering Tory candidates. She had earlier visited Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville to have the writ for the election dropped.
A re-elected Tory government would cut the lowest provincial income tax bracket in half over four years. Stefanson said. The move would save the average person earning $50,000 in annual income $1,900 per year when fully implemented in 2028, she added.
Stefanson also promised to remove the federally imposed carbon price on hydro bills within 10 days of being re-elected. The price is applied to natural gas, which many Manitobans use for heat, not to electricity, which comes from hydroelectric generation.
Stefanson said the government could afford the tax cuts and balance the budget by 2025. Manitoba has run deficits in every year but one since 2009.
The leader of the Opposition New Democrats called the Tory promise a “desperate” last-ditch effort to hold onto power.
“People in Manitoba are dealing with high costs right now. If the Progressive Conservatives thought this was a good idea, why didn’t they help (Manitobans) earlier? Why are they waiting until after an election?” Wab Kinew said.
Kinew refused to directly answer questions about whether he supports cutting the carbon tax, but said his party would not rule out “real” affordability opportunities for Manitobans.
Kinew started his campaign a day early on Monday, and promised to hire more health-care professionals and reduce wait times.
Opinion polls have suggested Stefanson faces an uphill battle. Support for the Tories dropped sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic and health-care wait times remain long.
The New Democrats have been leading in the polls, especially in Winnipeg where most legislature seats are concentrated. They have promised to reopen three emergency departments in the city that the Tories downgraded to urgent care centres, which are not aimed at dealing with life-threatening issues such as heart attacks.
The Manitoba Liberal Party is seeking to add to the three legislature seats it currently holds, which is not enough for official party status.
The party, running its second campaign under leader Dougald Lamont, faced a setback Tuesday as former federal Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy supported Kinew.
In a front-page newspaper ad taken out by the NDP, Axworthy stated that Kinew “can provide a caring, conscientious governance”.
Lamont said he spoke with Axworthy and the comments were not an endorsement of the NDP, but simply a message of support for Kinew who has faced attack ads from the governing Tories.
“This is a letter written to Wab Kinew that the NDP then said ‘well okay, let’s stick this on the cover of the (Winnipeg) Free Press,” Lamont said.
The Tories and NDP had candidates in place Tuesday in all 57 constituencies. The Liberals were still working on theirs and were not guaranteeing a full slate would be in place by the nomination deadline next Monday.
At dissolution, the Progressive Conservatives had 35 seats, the NDP had 18 and the Liberals had three. There was one vacant seat — the Morden-Winkler seat held by former Tory finance minister Cameron Friesen, who resigned in February.