WINNIPEG — Fresh off last month's historic election win, Manitoba's new Progressive Conservative government is expected to have something of a cakewalk in a legislature session that starts Monday.
The Tories captured 40 of the 57 legislature seats in the April 19 election — the biggest majority in Manitoba in a century — and they face opposition New Democrats and Liberals that are both searching for new leaders.
"I think they've probably got an easy time of it for one to two years ... because these (opposition) parties have to replace leaders and until a permanent leader is found, the parties will have difficulty getting their act together in terms of focusing their attacks on and challenges to the new government," said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
Former NDP premier Greg Selinger announced on election night he would step down, and the party has appointed Flor Marcelino, a former cabinet minister who admits to having challenges in her ability to debate, as interim leader.
Marcelino underwent surgery for a brain tumour in 2002. Since then, she says, she processes questions and answers more slowly.
"I'm more comfortable writing. If I need to speak, I'm a little challenged and handicapped if you ask me to speak right away," she said in a recent interview.
The Liberals are also looking for a new leader in the wake of Rana Bokhari's decision to step down. Bokhari never held a legislature seat, and the three Liberals who won seats last month have said they are not going to seek the party helm.
The legislature session starts Monday with a throne speech that will outline the government's plan for the coming year. Premier Brian Pallister has already outlined initiatives for his first 100 days in office — a list that includes ending a public subsidy for political parties and reinstating a referendum requirement for major tax increases that was suspended by the NDP.
A budget will follow near the end of May, and Pallister has indicated it will include measures to reduce ambulance fees across the province and boost funding for tourism.
The Tories also plan to join the New West Partnership trade agreement that Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia established in 2010. The Tories have also promised to improve the province's troubled child-welfare system by ensuring government departments and service agencies share information.
"We asked for a mandate to act on three major, broad initiatives. Those being lower taxes ... better services and of course a stronger economy," Pallister said last week.
Pallister has promised to work toward a balanced budget, following a string of NDP deficits that started in 2009, but has not committed to a deadline. He said last week his party was still trying to get a handle on the amount of red ink.
The NDP estimated the deficit at $773 million in March, but Pallister said it has grown since then.