With Manitoba's provincial election less than two weeks away, the governing Tories and opposition NDP have made a commitment not to implement any further COVID lockdowns as we enter flu season.
On September 20, Tory MLA Heather Stefanson and NDP MLA Wab Kinew pledged not to repeat past mistakes, citing their reluctance to shut down the economy and the resultant exacerbation of the mental health and addiction crisis.
"I can tell you that if we are back in government, we will not be locked down again," said Stefanson at the debate.
She later told reporters that her government had "[learned from] the unintended consequences of […] shutting down businesses."
At the height of the COVID pandemic, the Manitoba Tories briefly closed 'non-essential' businesses only to reopen them at a limited capacity.
To counter the spread of the respiratory virus, the province also imposed restrictions on public gatherings — opposed most feverishly by churches in towns and hamlets.
Before serving as premier, Stefanson served briefly as health minister in 2021. At the time, COVID cases surged, forcing the province to medevac dozens of intensive care patients to other provinces.
Though Kinew concurred with Stefanson on not closing businesses or limiting public gatherings again, he said an NDP-led government would expand hospital capacity to ensure sick people get prompt treatment in-province.
He told reporters that halting the economy again is not something the province should contemplate again.
"Manitobans are ready to turn the page on the pandemic," said Kinew.
However, both party leaders urged residents to vaccinate against COVID, with flu season fast approaching.
According to an Angus Reid survey, the opposition NDP commands a six-point lead over the governing Tories, leading among decided and leaning voters at 47% to 41%.
While the Tories hold a healthy lead in rural Manitoba over the NDP at 53% to 38%, the NDP nearly double the Tories in Winnipeg at 53% to 31%.
According to the polls, support for the Tories fell during the COVID pandemic. Two in five (40%) Manitoba residents say the NDP is best to lead the province in this area.
Political analyst Royce Koop told CTV that the polling numbers show an NDP surge in suburban Winnipeg because of healthcare.
"The NDP has been very disciplined since the campaign started, sticking with health care," he said.
"They've effectively kept healthcare on the front page."