Tory leader pitches tax cuts, NDP woos Liberals ahead of Manitoba election day

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's political leaders made their final pitches to voters Monday — one day before an election that determines whether the Progressive Conservatives win a second mandate after three years of controversial cost control.

Tory Leader Brian Pallister, who recently fulfilled a promise to reduce the provincial sales tax, said his party is the only one that would work toward a balanced budget and cut other taxes such as an education levy on homes and other properties.

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"If you want the education tax taken off your property, there's only one choice tomorrow," Pallister said Monday outside the legislature, surrounded by his candidates.

"And if you want more jobs and more opportunities for your children ... there is only one choice tomorrow."

Pallister's Tories are favoured to win the election. Opinion polls have consistently suggested the party has a strong lead provincewide, but faces a close race with the NDP in seat-rich Winnipeg.

Pallister appeared to acknowledge a fear that some of his supporters may feel comfortable staying home because of the lead in polls.

"I would say to everyone that wants to move forward tomorrow — don't believe the polls, your vote matters."

The Progressive Conservatives won 40 of the 57 legislature seats in 2016 — the biggest majority in Manitoba in a century — after the former NDP government angered voters with tax increases and a string of deficits.

Pallister has significantly reduced red ink, partly by freezing some public-sector wages and keeping health and education funding increases below the rate of inflation.

Along the way, subsidies have been cut for items ranging from public housing to sleep-apnea machines. Three hospital emergency departments in Winnipeg have been downgraded to urgent care centres, which do not handle life-threatening issues such as heart attacks.

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew pitched his New Democratic Party on Monday as the only viable alternative to Tory cost-cutting, given that the Liberals had four legislature seats when the election was called and the Green Party had none.

"Right now it's a two-horse race," Kinew told reporters.

"Tomorrow morning, Manitobans are going to wake up. And if you don't want Brian Pallister to be your next premier, then you have to vote for the Manitoba NDP, for my team."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont has promised more public spending than other parties — $1.4 billion or more annually — in order to boost the economy and improve health care and education. He urged voters Monday to not look at the Liberals as a lost vote.

"Part of the reason we face challenges is that the other parties just go around telling everybody that we can't win," Lamont said.

Pallister called the election more than a year ahead of the scheduled date of Oct. 6, 2020. He has given different reasons at different times for the early call.

He initially referred to the ability to go early as a competitive advantage, then said holding the vote this year would avoid a clash with Manitoba's 150th birthday celebrations in 2020.

More recently, he has said he needs a new mandate from voters because he has new ideas for a second term.

— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone

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