Throne speech offers election hints
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On Tuesday, the Manitoba government’s final legislative session before the next provincial election began with a speech from the throne in which the lieutenant-governor outlined many of the policies that the government plans to implement during the session.
During my short career in the premier’s office, I was involved in the writing and editing of a few throne speeches. With that experience in mind, I read this week’s speech and, as I worked my way through all 18 pages of the document, a number of passages caught my attention. They provide clear hints as to the strategy our Progressive Conservative government will take in the upcoming provincial election.
For those who wish to read this week’s throne speech, it can be found online at https://bit.ly/3XbOvHA.
While the first page of the speech contains basic language that such a speech should always begin with, page 2 identifies many of the challenges currently facing our province. It begins with these words: “Today, Manitoba is at a crossroads with tremendous potential ahead as we continue these early days of moving beyond the pandemic. Signs of recovery surround us as Manitobans literally step out into the world once again with a renewed sense of hope and optimism.”
The next sentence, however, begins with the words “but significant challenges remain.” They include the impact of inflation on Manitobans, wait times for surgical procedures and diagnostic tests, the need for more health care professionals, the need for more mental health and addictions services, and the ominous assertion that violent crime “is escalating and must be arrested.” (A too-cute choice of words.)
While page 2 itemizes the challenges the government says it is focused on, the following page lists the things it says it will do in response: “Helping make our communities safer,” “Helping families make ends meet,” “Strengthening health care and reducing surgical and diagnostic backlogs,” “Helping make manitoba more competitive,” “Helping protect our environment, climate and parks,” “Helping build stronger communities” and “Advancing reconciliation.”
Page 18, the final page of the speech, says this: “We will help make our communities safer,” “We will help families make ends meet,” “We will strengthen our healthcare and reduce wait times,” “We will make Manitoba more competitive,” “We will protect our environment, climate and parks,” and “We will help build stronger communities.”
In other words, pages 2, 3 and 18 tell us the issues on which the government plans to fight for its re-election — public safety, affordability, health-care wait times, economic growth, environmental protection and community development — while pages 3 to 17 specify steps they would take to address those issues.
With that in mind, it is fair to say that the provincial election campaign has begun even though it is more than 10 months before the fixed election date, and the government has chosen the issues it wants the campaign to be focused on.
By doing this so far in advance of the election, the government is trying to set the election agenda. They believe that a campaign focused on those particular issues will give them the best chance of re-election, and they intend to spend the rest of their mandate making sure those issues are “top of mind” with voters.
That may be what the government wants, but the opposition parties, the media and the public will all have a say on which issues become decisive election day “ballot box” questions.
When will that election day be? The throne speech contains two important hints on page 6. It tells us that our education property tax rebate cheques will increase in 2023 from an average of $581 to $774, and that the minimum wage will increase to $15 per hour next October.
Under Manitoba’s fixed-election law, the election must be called before October 3 of next year, but the government can call an election before then. That said, there is no way the government wants the election to be held before Manitobans receive their (increased) education property tax rebate cheques.
They know that most homeowners will appreciate those cheques in these inflationary times, and they will campaign on the argument that an NDP government would take that money away. Similarly, the government likely believes that raising the minimum wage next October is also a vote-winner.
Many pundits have suggested a spring election is likely, but this week’s throne speech and the timing of the rebate cheques and wage increase appear to signal that the government intends to stick with the Oct. 3 fixed election date.
Time will tell us who is correct.
» Twitter: @deverynross