Canada's Liberal and Conservative leaders presented duelling visions for economic recovery during separate campaign stops Friday morning in Winnipeg, where provincial politics loomed in the background.

Canada's Liberal and Conservative leaders presented duelling visions for economic recovery during separate campaign stops Friday morning in Winnipeg, where provincial politics loomed in the background.

"I’m very proud to partner with our political cousins," Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said of the Manitoba PCs, speaking at a Bison Transport garage near the airport.

O’Toole laid out a plan to subsidize wages for businesses that hire people who have been out of the workforce for more than six months.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole elbow-bumps mechanics after making an announcement at Bison Transport in Winnipeg on Friday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole elbow-bumps mechanics after making an announcement at Bison Transport in Winnipeg on Friday.

Before that, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau walked into a Food Fare in St. James, promising more funding for COVID-19 prevention in schools, and pledging to again ask provinces to implement permanent, paid sick leave.

The prime minister commended the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba universities for requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for people on their premises.

He said Ottawa will never compel people get a shot, but chided federal and provincial conservatives for opposing measures to restrict activities to those who are fully vaccinated or have a proven medical reason not to be.

Bergen not jumping ship... yet

Candice Bergen, one of the top rumoured contenders to lead the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives, isn’t ruling out an exit from federal politics, but says she has no plans to replace Premier Brian Pallister.

“I am not playing coy here; I still believe I have work to do federally. And so that's what I'm doing; I'm working hard to win my riding and help others to win theirs,” the Portage-Lisgar MP told the Free Press.

Candice Bergen, one of the top rumoured contenders to lead the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives, isn’t ruling out an exit from federal politics, but says she has no plans to replace Premier Brian Pallister.

“I am not playing coy here; I still believe I have work to do federally. And so that's what I'm doing; I'm working hard to win my riding and help others to win theirs,” the Portage-Lisgar MP told the Free Press.

“There's not even a leadership race officially launched, that I'm aware of,” she said. “If that would change, I would think about it at that time. But right now, and in the next short term, I'm very much focused on the federal election.”

Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson is the only announced candidate to replace Pallister, who announced Aug. 10 he’d be leaving provincial politics. Pallister hasn’t said when he'll step down and the party hasn’t published its rules and timeline for a leadership campaign.

O’Toole would not comment on the prospect of Bergen, who his deputy leader, or Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman MP James Bezan leaving his party if the Tories again end up in opposition next month.

“I’m not surprised people are seeing the leadership in some of our outstanding Members of Parliament,” he said.

—Dylan Robertson

"It’s not a question of personal choice; these are choices that have a direct impact on the community and the responsibility of all governments is to be there to protect people," Trudeau said.

Trudeau was appearing in the riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, currently held by incumbent Conservative MP Marty Morantz, and the only Manitoba seat being hotly contested. O’Toole’s visit was at a location bordering the same riding.

The Liberals are hoping to capitalize on discontentment over the Premier Brian Pallister's handling of COVID-19. Dr. Doug Eyolfson is trying to win back the riding he lost in 2019 by touting his work in the intensive-care ward at Grace Hospital.

Morantz said voters are concerned about the sustainability of the health-care system, as well as small businesses on the brink and young people needing jobs.

"They understand that we need to get the economy growing again in order to get people back where they should be," said Morantz, a former city councillor.

Many constituents are surprised an election is happening, and some conflate provincial issues with the federal vote, he said.

"What I'm hearing from most people is really, they don't want this election; this is a completely unwarranted and unnecessary election," he said.

Pallister, who announced his resignation last week, is facing a caucus revolt and months of bad poll numbers. O’Toole wouldn’t say whether he had invited the premier to his campaign stop, nor whether Pallister's unpopularity will hurt the federal party’s chances in Manitoba.

"We need an all-hands-on-deck approach; I will work with all premiers, all First Nations leaders, union leaders… to get all Canadians, all Manitobans back to work," he said in response to questions from the Free Press.

Meanwhile, Trudeau faced some criticism from some senior First Nations leaders in Manitoba after a campaign week in which he had barely mentioned Indigenous issues.

The Liberals have earmarked millions for searching residential-school burial sites. But Manitoba chiefs have demanded help with setting standards so they can preserve evidence and not get ripped off by private companies.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves to supporters gathered outside a campaign stop in Winnipeg Friday.

ALEX LUPUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves to supporters gathered outside a campaign stop in Winnipeg Friday.

"These are people who were murdered in these institutions of genocide. So the quicker we can discover these graves and address them, in whatever way the communities want, the better it is for everyone," said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who was among three senior chiefs who briefly met with Trudeau after his campaign stop.

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of the northern Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said the Liberals have a lot of unfulfilled promises since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission wrapped up six years ago, but have made more progress on Indigenous issues than Stephen Harper's government did.

"Under the previous regime, it couldn't be any worse. So we're going to move forward," he said.

Trudeau struck a similar note.

"Everyone shares their impatience, my impatience, to get even more done even faster on reconciliation. But what took generations — and, in some cases, even centuries — to break will take more than a few years to fix."

The federal election takes place Sept. 20.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca