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Manitoba Election 2016: Voters To Pick Between Unpopular Premier, Controversial Tory, Rookie Grit

They head to the polls in April.
WINNIPEG — Voters in this spring's Manitoba election will have a choice between a premier who has broken a key promise, an Opposition leader who has made some bizarre comments and a rookie Liberal hoping to leave the political wilderness.

NDP Premier Greg Selinger has tried to reverse public anger over a 2013 sales tax increase so as to better his party's chances of extending its 16 years in government.

He had promised during the 2011 election campaign there would be no increase and the New Democrats dropped sharply in opinion polls after the tax went up two years later. The government's efforts to convince voters that the money will be well spent on roads and other infrastructure projects have done nothing to budge the polls.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger is seeking to extend the NDP's 16 years in government. (Photo: John Woods)

The Progressive Conservatives have risen marginally in the polls and have been portrayed by the NDP as hell-bent on spending cuts. The one-seat Liberal party has risen sharply, but with an untested leader at the helm, analysts say support is soft and could plummet before election day April 19.

The sense is voters don't yet know who they will choose at the ballot box.

"For many people, it may be a choice between a party they don't like and a party they really don't like," said Royce Koop, who teaches political science at the University of Manitoba.

Curtis Brown, a pollster who until recently worked at Probe Research in Winnipeg, said people who are expressing support for the Liberals are "looking for a home."

"They may be enticed to come back (to the NDP). They may even be encouraged to go all the way across and vote for the Conservatives."

PC Leader Brian Pallister has revamped a party that was demoralized after the last campaign — funding, membership ranks and party organization have all improved. But Pallister has also at times made headlines with strange comments.

"For many people, it may be a choice between a party they don't like and a party they really don't like."

He once referred to "infidel atheists" while giving an off-the-cuff holiday greeting that he was trying to make inclusive. He also, during a lengthy speech in the legislature, veered off topic and criticized Halloween as bad for children's integrity.

Pallister admits his tendency to speak without prepared notes can be risky, but is more authentic than other politicians.

"I've been me for 60 years and I want people to know who I am. And if I am a robot, or so guarded that I'm only saying things that we've already focus-tested ... I'm trying to be something I'm not."

Pallister's dislike of Halloween, he said, stems from being bullied as a kid. He stands six-foot-eight and was already very tall as a child and unable to conceal his identity in a costume. He was teased as a result.

"I still don't personally enjoy Halloween, but I did take my kids trick-or-treating," he said.

Manitoba PC Leader Brian Pallister. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

"There's a heck of a lot of Manitobans that don't like Halloween either. And I think those (controversies) are minor compared to who do you want to actually get health-care access for your mom. I think Manitobans have too much intelligence to worry about stuff like that."

The Liberals are led by Rana Bokhari, a former lawyer in her 30s who has never held elected office. The party received 7.5 per cent of the popular vote in the last election, but recent polls suggest party support has vaulted past the 20 per cent mark.

Bokhari has started releasing a list of election promises — including eliminating some surgery wait times and giving tens of millions of dollars to municipalities and students. But she so far hasn't said how a Liberal government would pay for them.

"I don't think Manitobans fully know who she is or what she's all about yet," Brown said.

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