BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister gives the keynote address during the party’s convention at the Victoria Inn on Saturday.
The provincial Tories were in Brandon on the weekend to start work on a two-year plan of attack in hopes of becoming victorious when Manitobans cast their ballots in October 2015.
Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister gives the keynote address during the party’s convention at the Victoria Inn on Saturday. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
About 200 members of the Progressive Conservative party filled a Victoria Inn banquet hall Saturday to fine-tune its policies.
Along with media, two NDP staffers were also in the room, assigned to suss out the party’s plans during the annual general meeting.
The three-day convention gave the party a chance to focus its proposed policies and tweak and build its campaign ahead of the next provincial election.
"We have begun the deliberative process of engagement," Opposition Leader Brian Pallister told delegates during a speech. "We have outlined — and we will continue to discuss — new policy development processes that are vital and important to our party developed over several months with significant input ... from people across the province."
Pallister’s broad-stroke keynote address didn’t include Brandon specifically, but did mention he has seen more support for his party, especially in "target ridings" in Winnipeg.
It is apparent Premier Greg Selinger’s provincial sales tax increase — which has been the Tories’ go-to offensive for several months — will continue to play a large role in the future of the party’s campaign.
In his speech, Pallister said the government has taken money "off the kitchen tables of Manitobans," a rhetorical phrase repeated throughout Saturday’s proceedings.
Pallister slammed the tax hike as a "scar on the New Democratic Party that will remain for years to come and decades to come."
"They’re not fit to govern this province and they need out," he said.
"We have the lowest job growth in Canada ... we have the worst retail sales in Canada," which Pallister blamed on customers flocking to North Dakota and Saskatchewan to shop due to the one per cent increase in the PST introduced on July 1.
The speech also included a call to members to bring new people into the party’s fold while the Tories try to shake "old," "stodgy" and "homophobic" stigmas, as pointed out by one delegate when discussing its youth strategy.
"I believe the single most important determinant of our success of our organization — and ultimately the success of our province — lies in our willingness to include others," Pallister said. "We have to reach out."
Of the nearly 70 resolutions submitted by Tory delegates, 15 were identified as high priority to push through, most of which passed with ease. A pledge to reverse the tax hike within the first term in office was top of the stack for the party.
The Brandon West PC Association submitted two resolutions: a proposal to increase programming for prisoners in remand and another to investigate the idea of a national driver’s licence for military personnel who bounce across the country every few years. Both were delegated to an internal committee at a later date along with the majority of the resolutions.
Policy items passed over the weekend included revisions the NDP’s anti-bullying bill; indexing tax brackets; revisions to mental health support; and mobile MRI, CT scan and ultrasound units to service the province’s rural areas.
The party further stressed its commitment to routing the multibillion-dollar Bipole III transmission line on the east side of Lake Winnipeg instead of the west despite the fact construction has already begun. The party will continue its fight for a "truly independent" environmental and economic analysis of the project and a spokesperson confirmed the party, if in power, would reroute the project as long as it isn't close to completion.
Delegates also passed a policy to reinstate the balanced budget legislation, a law first introduced in the 1990s to control government debt, with an added clause to force out of office any finance minister who breaks the budget law (prompting a byelection). However, that motion died on the floor.
The annual meeting of PC members started just hours after Selinger shook up his cabinet Friday in an attempt to win back the popularity of the province, which has been low since the beginning of the summer. The cabinet shuffle included nothing new for Brandon East MLA Drew Caldwell, who remains legislative assistant to the premier’s office.
A probe research poll for the Winnipeg Free Press earlier this month, suggested the NDP’s popularity remains low with 29 per cent of decided respondents saying they would vote for the NDP if an election were held this month — a number that remained the same as when the government first announced the sales tax increase during the budget tabling in June.
The PCs scored 43 per cent, down three points from June, while the Liberal party garnered 20 per cent — up three points from June and a 13-point jump from the 2011 election.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 21, 2013