03/11/2014 11:15 EDT | Updated 05/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Manitoba Opposition leader responds to attack ads about civil service

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Opposition Leader Brian Pallister tried to rebut NDP attacks ads Tuesday with a promise: No front-line civil servants will lose their jobs if he becomes premier.

Pallister has been the subject in recent weeks of a "running with scissors" ad campaign by the governing New Democrats, in which they accuse him of planning deep cuts to hospitals, schools and other "services that Manitoba families count on."

The ads are based on promises Pallister has been making since being elected Progressive Conservative leader in 2012. He wants to eliminate the deficit, cut spending and repeal a sales tax increase the government imposed last year.

Pallister said Tuesday he can do it all without cutting front-line workers, by focusing on wasteful spending and identifying duplication and "by working in partnership with the civil service."

Pallister has already outlined some specifics of his plan — a "chill'' on government hiring, a cut in government advertising and some administrative job cuts through attrition.

Pallister admitted Tuesday to some reluctance to take on the NDP ads, but said he felt he had no choice.

"We're finding that perhaps one in 10 (civil servants) actually think this is a real reason to be afraid," he told reporters.

"And even though I run the risk, with this statement today, of giving some credibility today to something that is incredible and false, it's those people that I'm addressing this message to."

The NDP said their ads are fair. They point to Pallister's use of words such as "chill" and to his time as a cabinet minister in the 1990s, when the province cut spending drastically.

"He's upset that his plan ... is being called what it is: a plan to fire people. He’s upset that we’re drawing attention to his own record of firing nurses and laying off teachers," Finance Minister Jennifer Howard said in a written, emailed statement.

The NDP levelled similar accusations against former Tory leader Hugh McFadyen during the 2011 election campaign and ended up winning control of the campaign agenda. McFadyen was put on the defensive and took out ads to say he would not cut services or privatize Crown corporations.

Recent opinion polls suggest support for the NDP has fallen far behind that for the Tories, although the next election is still two years away.