There were some feisty moments but no real knockout blows during the lone televised debate of the Manitoba election campaign, Tuesday night.
Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister, ahead in the polls, was in the crosshairs, frequently targeted by the other leaders.
NDP Leader Greg Selinger challenged Pallister to rule out plans to privatize health care and accused him of planning big cuts.
“Just give us a straight yes or no. Will you or will you privatize any part of our health care system?”
Pallister repeated his pledge to find savings by cutting out government waste, without making any cuts to services.
He said it was actually Selinger who had promoted his own form of “two tier” health care, with long waits for care.
“He’s done more for two tier health care than any Premier in the history of Manitoba. There are more people driving around looking for health care, more Manitobans furstrated with the wait for health care.”
Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari also focused on Pallister, criticizing him for not attending a debate hosted by the Manitoba Teachers Society last week, and questioning whether he’d fire teachers.
“There was 1000 teachers on that call and all they needed was some sincere comment to them, some reassurance that history was not going to repeat itself.”
Pallister also faced tough questions from moderators. Lauren McNabb of Global Winnipeg challenged him to explain where he might cut to find savings.
Pallister responded by saying his plan would be to curb spending.
“You had a number though,” said McNabb. “By controlling the runaway growth in spending, we get ourselves back on track,” Pallister said.
Green Party leader James Beddome performed strongly, asking Pallister to commit to a guaranteed annual income, one of the Green’s major policy planks.
In a debate without any real knockout blows, political scientist Chris Adams of St. Paul’s College says Pallister came out as winner.
“I think Pallister showed himself as having a Premier like demeanour. In that sense, I think he had something to gain in the debate.”
Adams was also impressed with Selinger’s performance.
“He had the facts at his fingertips, he defended the NDP’s record,” says Adams. “It was what we expected between Pallister and Selinger.
Adams referred to Bokhari and Beddome as a “second tier” of debators.
He said Bokhari was “okay, but didn’t hit it out of the park” and described Beddome as “competent.”
A Mainstreet Postmedia poll of television viewers showed 44 per cent thought Pallister won the debate. Twenty-four per cent said Selinger, 19 per cent Green Party Leader James Beddome, four per cent Rana Bokhari and 10 per cent were undecided.
Other polls show Pallister with a big lead ahead of the election on April 19th and Adams doesn’t expect major changes in voters moods moving forward.
“I think this debate really solidifies where the four parties are. I don’t think it will radically change anything.”