NEWS
11/25/2015 15:50 EST | Updated 11/25/2016 00:12 EST

First debate of upcoming Manitoba election campaign proves heated

WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger found himself the target of some sharp barbs in the first leaders debate before next April's provincial election.

Selinger, whose New Democrats have fallen in opinion polls since raising the provincial sales tax in 2013, remained calm and relaxed as he touted his government's infrastructure spending.

He said spending could not continue with tax cuts being promised by the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals.

Tory Leader Brian Pallister dismissed an accusation that he was getting heated up during the debate, saying he wasn't nearly as angry at Selinger as half the NDP caucus is.

The reference to an internal revolt that Selinger faced earlier this year got a few laughs from the audience.

Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari told Selinger to — quote — "be real" while talking about health care and other programs.

Bokhari, who has never held public office and was in her first political debate, seemed to struggle for words at times but held her own overall.

She received the biggest round of applause when she criticized the government's decision to force small communities to amalgamate.

She opened the debate by promising to stop charging municipalities provincial sales tax on the goods and services they buy.

The one-hour debate was held by the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.

The Canadian Press