Wab Kinew, Dougald Lamont, and Heather Stefanson debated live on air Thursday evening as each vie to be elected premier on Oct. 3. Curtis Brown with PROBE research says the topics brought up in the debate are on the minds of many Manitobans but one main takeaway he noted was how the PCs and Liberals sharpened their attack on the NDP.
This comes a day after new polling from the Angus Reid Institute suggests the NDP holds a six-point lead over the Tories with less than two weeks until election day.
“If the Conservatives want to continue to stay in government after Oct. 3rd or the Liberals want to pick up more seats, they need to definitely whittle down that NDP support,” Brown noted.
During the debate, Stefanson accused Kinew of ‘fabricating’ support for his ER plan from former Liberal MP and former physician Dr. Doug Eyolfson.
“Dr. Eyolfson has since clarified that this is patently false, it is not the first time Mr. Kinew has misled Manitobans and has a history of making false claims,” Stefanson said.
She then directed a question at Lamont asking, “What does it say when a leader and a want-to-be premier has to fabricate this kind of support?”
Lamont responded by saying he was shocked to hear that Dr. Eyolfson had endorsed the NDP ER plan considering the party’s history in the area.
“To be outright lying in the middle of a leader debate is beyond disturbing,” he added.
Stefanson then urged Manitobans not to be fooled by Kinew and ensured healthcare is not an issue that is going to be solved overnight.
Kinew responded and said that Dr. Eyolfson said was closing ER rooms was a huge mistake. This is why the NDP is committed to opening more emergency rooms.
Brown said while the attack was strong, he is not entirely sure the PC’s and Liberals were able to land a knockout blow to the NDP’s.
“They asked him some tough questions and I think there were some moments where they really tried to put him in a bit more of a corner, but I’m not sure that he necessarily really took a big hit or anything like that.”
Brown said it is rather rare to have a knockout moment in debates and it tends to mostly be the party leaders repeating a lot of the same lines that they’ve been saying in debates and speeches and media conferences.
This statement rang true as the main topics of discussion throughout the night were healthcare, affordability, taxes, crime, mental health, addictions, and homelessness. All those topics have been spoken about at length throughout the campaign by the party leaders.
Similar to his sentiments, University of Manitoba professor Real Carrier said he believes the NDP was the party that came out of the debate with the strongest message. And with the focus throughout the debate on the New Democrats, he said, it was something that benefited the party.
“I always go into these elections thinking that the dominant party is going to be the leader… that focus on the NDP, I think, is a big win or benefit for (them),” said Carrier. “Having two people… consistently going back to the NDP, I think just brings the audience’s attention to the NDP.”
Carrier, an assistant professor at the university’s department of political studies, said that he’s had his students work on debates in class. He added that in preparing for it, you need to begin with your strongest point. The purpose of the leaders’ debate, he said, was to ensure parties could get undecided voters along with those faithful to each party.
In the aftermath of the debate, Brown said he doesn’t think it will change people’s minds one way or the other. He added that debates tend to be a moment where people who may not have been that engaged start paying attention.
It’s an opinion that political science professor Malcolm Bird agrees with as he believes voter turnout will be average in this election.
“It’s been so far, quite a quiet election,” he said. “Anything that the parties or media or any of us can do is to have some dialog and discussion about the election – hopefully, that’ll encourage more people to vote, because I think it is very important that people do listen and think and ponder and then get out and vote for whatever party fits their interests the best.”
Advance polls open on Saturday.