First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent directly to your inbox, sign up here.
As the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives face potential defeat at the hands of the NDP, the conservative party released — and then swiftly withdrew — an 11th-hour campaign video reminding Manitobans that they can secretly vote PC and nobody would have to know.
“You’re in the voting booth alone, with a personal decision to make that is yours, and yours alone,” reads a narration over black-and-white footage of a woman marking a ballot.
“Stand firm and vote how you feel, not how others say you should … it’s OK to disagree on issues without the fear of being judged.”
It was taken down within hours, but a copy was archived online by University of Manitoba law student Nathan Dueck. A version also appeared in print ads paid for by the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives. “Vote like no one is watching. Because no one is,” it reads.
Secret ballots have indeed been the norm in Canadian elections since the 1870s, but the video caps off an election that has seen some unusually beyond-the-pale campaign messaging from the embattled PCs.
Over the weekend, the Progressive Conservatives took out full-page newspaper ads citing past criminal charges against Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
“Charged with domestic assault, drunk driving and violent assault of a cab driver,” reads the caption under Kinew’s portrait in an ad featuring the tagline “don’t gamble on the NDP.”
It was during the 2017 race for the provincial NDP leadership that the details of all three incidents first became widespread public knowledge in Manitoba — in part because of a suspected oppo campaign by Kinew’s leadership rivals.
In 2004, Kinew pled guilty to four offences: he faced drunk driving charges stemming from a February 2003 incident, and was charged in June 2004 for punching a Winnipeg cab driver. Kinew detailed the offences in his 2015 memoir and delivered a public apology when they became an issue in the leadership campaign.
Two domestic violence charges against Kinew, both from 2003, were stayed after a year for unclear reasons. They stemmed from an allegation from a former romantic partner that Kinew had thrown her across a room. The partner maintained at the time that the incident had taken place as described, but Kinew has denied it.
The Manitoba Progressive Conservatives have also taken out several billboards championing the fact that they nixed a contentious nine-figure plan to search a Winnipeg landfill for human remains.
Last year, police said they suspected that the Winnipeg-area Prairie Green landfill contained the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran – two First Nations women believed to have been the victim of a serial killer.
In May, a feasibility report prepared by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs concluded that it was possible to search the landfill for their remains, but that it would cost $184 million, take three years and potentially expose searchers to dangerous levels of asbestos and other toxins.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson soon announced that the province would not be funding the search due to logistical constraints. And in July Stefanson would even urge “sensitivity” about making the search a political issue.
“What should not happen — must not happen — is the continuing politicization of this awful tragedy,” she said at the time.
That sentiment appears to have been discarded in favour of a billboard campaign championing Stefanson’s decision to forego the dig. “Stand firm against the unsafe $184 million landfill dig,” it reads against the slogan Vote PC.
The NDP hasn’t said they will greenlight the $184 million plan outright, but that they’ll “try” to do something. “We are going to come looking and we are going to deliver justice,” Kinew told reporters at the campaign’s outset.
Manitoba voters may also have seen campaign signs featuring PC candidate Obby Khan against the slogan Parents Know Best — a reference to Stefanson’s pre-election promise to reverse a school policy of having teachers accommodate student gender transitions without necessarily informing parents.
Stefanson’s stance on the issue is supported by a clear majority in federal surveys, but it’s not something that’s been opposed all that hard on the NDP side. While NDP parties in Ontario and British Columbia have taken the view that it’s harmful or hateful to automatically inform parents of a child’s new pronouns, Kinew was much more nuanced in a recent CBC interview.
“I’m never going to come between you and your child, and I think parents have a right to know,” Kinew said in a Sept. 27 interview.
Manitoba governments have been regularly flipping between the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives since the 1960s. In the past 50 years, 27 of them have seen Manitoba governed by the NDP, with the other 23 under the PCs.
Since 1990, Manitoba elections have also been pretty unambiguous: A party enters the campaign with an obvious lead and then wins a majority on Election Day. The last provincial election in 2019, for instance, saw the incumbent Brian Pallister win a crushing 36 of 57 seats in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. That election was Kinew’s first as NDP leader, and he only managed to grow the NDP caucus from 12 to 18.
If the electoral climate is different this time, it might be because the polls are so close. While the NDP has been leading the PCs for months in opinion polls and is the favourite to win, projections show that the PCs may still be within two or three seats of winning re-election.
IN OTHER NEWS
The rubber is finally meeting the road on the Trudeau government’s grand plan to censor the internet in the service of CanCon. The CRTC just announced that any “online undertakings” with annual revenues of more than $10 million must now register with Ottawa. This includes social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram, streaming sites such as YouTube and Netflix, and even podcast providers. The round-up is all part of the implementation of Bill C-11, the Liberals’ new law to extend Canadian content controls to the internet. All registrants will soon need to obey CRTC guidelines on Canadian content, which will include artificially hiding podcasts and videos from users that don’t meet Ottawa’s definition of what is “Canadian.” As was asserted multiple times throughout C-11’s passage through Parliament, this is a level of state control of the internet that doesn’t really exist anywhere else in the democratic world.
Get all of these insights and more into your inbox by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here.