Tensions were evident as the top three candidates vying for the province’s lead role took to the podium to exchange views on hot topics last week.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) hosted the initial debate of the provincial election at its annual conference held in Brandon on November 25.
“Having the first debate of the provincial election is a great thing for the AMM,” said AMM president Chris Goertzen. “This is the first time we have ever held something like this and I believe it is a great thing for our organization but also for the opportunity for members of our municipal governments to have a chance to get involved.”
Premier Greg Selinger, opposition Conservative leader, Brian Pallister and Liberal leader, Rana Bokhari came together on the AMM stage for the first time to debate top concerns to rural municipalities — infrastructure, alternative revenue, economic growth, rural health care and provincial downloading.
Numerous times throughout the debate, Selinger was placed in the spotlight over the one-point PST increase that was implemented in 2013.
“People are tired of paying more and getting less. They’re tired of their taxes going up but not seeing better services as a consequence of those higher taxes,” said Pallister.
Bokhari was quick to point out her party’s intention of rebating the PST to municipalities.
“I’m so committed to giving municipalities their fair share and that was the whole purpose of this: to make sure that they have the funding that they need, that it’s long term, and that’s strategic,” said Bokhari. “This is something municipalities have been asking for, for decades now. They have responsibilities downloaded from the province and nobody is giving them any money to do this.”
Both opposing leaders also pointed out the Selinger government’s lack of consultation with municipalities over last year’s amalgamation, which earned a vocal reaction from the AMM crowd.
Following a discussion over health care, tensions peaked after a pointed remark from Pallister, directed to Selinger over the previous unrest in his caucus.
“I’m not nearly as angry as half your caucus is about your leadership,” said Pallister.
Selinger defended his party by highlighting the NDP’s track record of development and spending in infrastructure and education.
“You can see (road work and improvement) everywhere you drive in Manitoba,” said Selinger. “We built a floodway around the city of Winnipeg, we’ve built flood protection in Brandon, we’ve built flood protection down the Assiniboine River all the way up to the Interlake, and we will continue to do that.”
The debate will only intensify over the next few months as Manitobans prepare to go to the polls on April 19.