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This article was published 26/11/2015 (2127 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The two candidates vying for Premier Greg Selinger’s job didn’t mince words at the first provincial leaders debate ahead of the 2016 provincial election.
Both Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister and Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari came out swinging at the event, held at the Keystone Centre as part of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities annual convention.
"Be real with Manitobans," Bokhari said to Selinger. "Say that you’ve ignored (infrastructure) for 15 years … don’t pretend you’ve done it all along because that’s absolutely not factual."
Selinger responded by saying infrastructure spending has increased year over year.
"We have not been idle … we haven’t been out of touch," he said. "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 into the Interlake, and we will continue to do that."
At several points during the debate, Pallister brought up the controversial one per cent PST increase, which was implemented back in 2013. The most contentious point of the debate was when Pallister accused Selinger of making up facts when he told the crowd that the PC leader would support a two-tiered health-care system.
"That’s pretty rich," Pallister said. "You have the right to your opinion but you don’t have the right to make up my opinion."
The Liberal leader sparked a round of applause when she asked Selinger if he consulted with the municipalities before the forced amalgamations.
Bokhari said she hopes her fellow candidates head into the election campaign with the "utmost respect" for each other.
"There is only one party that is socially progressive and fiscally responsible and that is the Manitoba Liberal team," she said. "Brian, you just feel like you’re the government in waiting and you don’t have to put forward a plan, and Greg, no disrespect, but you’ve been there for a very long time and I think it’s just time for change."
Other issues discussed included health care in rural communities, alternative revenue, economic growth and provincial downloading to municipalities.
Brandon University political scientist Kelly Saunders said the first debate was a chance for Manitobans to get to know the challengers.
"Of course, we know Mr. Selinger … but it was also a chance to really get to know Mr. Pallister perhaps a little more, and certainly Ms. Bokhari, who is really a bit of an unknown quantity for many Manitobans."
Saunders felt Bokhari had a good command of some issues, particularly those affecting the AMM audience, such as infrastructure, rural Manitoba issues and doctor shortages.
"She also differentiated herself from the Selinger government, which I think she needed to do," Saunders said.
As for the barbs between Pallister and Selinger, Saunders said we can only expect more of the same as the election nears.
"(Pallister) called Mr. Selinger on some things that I thought were fair game, on issues related to two-tier health care, for example," Saunders said.
"I thought … Mr. Selinger was a little flat in his presentation today… He seemed to be just sort of reverting back to the old tactics of the NDP, the two-tier health care, corporate giveaways, which I don’t know is really flying much anymore."
Manitobans will head to the polls on April 19.
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