Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister wants Manitobans to get to know him and his party. The Tories have an image problem, he concedes.
Others would suggest, however, the party that seeks to be a viable government option for voters also has developed an identity problem.
In recent elections, the Progressive Conservatives migrated from their conservative roots to appeal to urban voters, particularly in Winnipeg where dreams of government are made or broken.
Pallister has yet to develop policy that will comprise an election platform for the 2015 general elections. He is loath to express himself on the errors the party made in 2011, under the leadership of Hugh McFadyen. But he gave some hint, in a meeting last week with the Winnipeg Free Press editorial board of his views on fiscal policy and his expectations of his caucus.
Pallister says he wants to find out what’s on people’s minds, but his aim is clear: ease the tax burden of Manitobans. The NDP, having campaigned on a promise not to raise taxes, instead has hiked service fees and expanded the reach of retail sales tax.
Pallister said he believes in indexed income tax rates, to prevent “bracket creep” from penalizing rising incomes. This is a welcome sign, along with the Tory position to raise the basic personal exemption by $2,000.
Further, Pallister said he would make balancing the province’s budget and getting back to surpluses a priority.
Manitoba was barely touched by the recession and should not be running on deficit funding, yoking new generations with massive, accumulated debt.
Fundamentally, he said, his caucus critics will be expected to work harder. His party members will be expected to knock on doors, raise their profile, hear concerns of ordinary voters and drum up donations.
Pallister has an ambitious agenda to put Manitoba on a “path to prosperity.”
Focusing on tax policy and balanced budgets is a hopeful sign the Tories are reclaiming a conservative identity.