Manitoba Heads to the Polls

On October 3, Manitoba will hold a provincial election, with 57 seats in the Legislature up for grabs. The province has been governed by the Progressive Conservatives since 2016, and the party is seeking a third term in office with a new leader. They will face a New Democratic Party opposition with new momentum in a polarized political environment.  

PC leader Heather Stefanson took over as Premier from Brian Pallister after narrowly winning the PC leadership in 2021. Stefanson is a political veteran, having served continuously as an MLA since 2000, and holding leading Cabinet roles in Pallister’s government. She won the leadership promising a less abrasive, mercurial style of government from her predecessor, but has suffered from poor approval ratings since she took office. Stefanson and the PCs are campaigning hard for a third term, focusing on sharp contrasts with the NDP over carbon taxes, parental rights and labour issues. The party and its third-party allies are also putting a spotlight on NDP Leader Wab Kinew’s troubled pre-political life, which included convictions for impaired driving and assault.

Kinew is entering his second election as leader of the Manitoba NDP.  He entered politics after a career in broadcasting, winning a by-election in 2016. He was elected NDP leader in 2017 and led the party to minor seat gains in the 2019 election. Kinew’s campaign seems designed to deflect the anticipated PC attacks. He has spoken openly about his past and is campaigning on balancing the budget and reducing gas taxes. Kinew’s moderate campaign positioning is meant to evoke the Manitoba NDP’s past electoral successes under Gary Doer, but it is an open question whether they will be as compelling in an era of sharper political polarization.

Manitoba’s Liberals, under Dougald Lamont, look set to remain in the political wilderness. The Liberals have 3 MLAs, including Lamont, but the party is unlikely to be able to find candidates for every seat. The Liberals have been relegated to third place in Manitoba for the last 30 years, and are continually at risk of being squeezed out in a polarized race with rivals to the left and the right.

Manitoba has few public horse race polls, but those conducted in recent months have shown an NDP lead give way to a tightening race. A close race overall may still favour the NDP: 32 of the Legislature’s 57 seats are in Winnipeg, where the NDP leads and has traditionally been strong. The most closely-fought seats will be those currently held by the PCs in Winnipeg’s suburbs. The NDP picked up three of these suburban seats in 2019 (Transcona, St. James and St. Vital), but will need to sweep the remainder to have a chance at forming government. The PC campaign is designed to convince these voters that Wab Kinew is too much of a risk, while the NDP is looking to reassure them that a change of government will not be radical.

With the official campaign launching today, PAA will be following along closely.