WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives are continuing to be dogged by mounting disapproval for taking out billboard and newspaper ads that highlights the province's decision not to search a landfill for the remains of two First Nations women.
A stand-alone digital ad went up in Winnipeg that touts the Tories' position against searching the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran because of safety concerns. The ad reads, "Stand firm against the unsafe $184-million landfill dig."
The party also took out a full-page ad in the Winnipeg Free Press on Saturday that featured the governing Progressive Conservatives' promises, and included similar language on their decision to not search the landfill.
The families of Myran and Harris, along with a small group of supporters, showed up outside a Tory announcement Wednesday afternoon to protest the advertisements. Protesters drummed and shouted slogans including "search the landfill" and "bring them home."
Police were called to the constituency office of Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson the day before when some protesters were part of a "traffic disturbance." Stefanson's office windows were covered in red-painted handprints and signs demanding a search of the landfill were left outside.
Tory cabinet minister Kevin Klein was on hand during Wednesday's event to promise help for victims of domestic violence and women's shelters.
Klein acknowledged the topic is a "divisive one." He added Stefanson has indicated it's important for the Tories to be "clear and transparent" about their stance on the landfill search.
"It's a divisive issue that all parties are making divisive, and it shouldn't be that way … it's unfortunate," Klein told reporters.
Indigenous advocates have expressed disappointment in what they say is the Tories appearing to campaign on the issue.
"In a crucial election season, Heather Stefanson had a unique opportunity to use her platform as a leader to amplify the voices of First Nations women, and in doing so, all women," Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a release Wednesday.
"It is with deep disappointment that we cannot trust Heather Stefanson's leadership."
Chief Kyra Wilson of Long Plain First Nation, which Myran and Harris were members of, said in the same release that Stefanson's campaign underscores the need for change.
"Her insensitivity to the families grieving lost loved ones is unacceptable. As a province, we need to move past divisive rhetoric and concentrate on the bigger picture."
As the Tories remain behind in opinion polls, one analyst said the PCs are "pulling out all stops" to try to retain seats that they may have been confident about earlier in the campaign.
"They've got to double down on some of the more emotional, riveting issues that have come up in and around Indigenous issues," said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
"This is an ad that's meant to arouse and engage voters who have Progressive Conservative leanings."
The Tories took out a full-page ad in Wednesday's edition of the Winnipeg Free Press targeting the New Democrats. The ad is titled "Don't Gamble on the NDP" and contains smaller print saying, "With zero experience running government, don't believe the bluff. Discard the whole NDP deck."
The ad features graphics in the shape of playing cards with photos of eight New Democrat candidates and short facts or allegations against them, including previous charges of drunk driving and assault against leader Wab Kinew as well as charges of domestic assault against Eric Redhead, candidate for Thompson.
Kinew called the Progressive Conservatives' newest ad a "desperate" American style of politics that focuses on negative advertising.
"I'm pleased that the Progressive Conservatives are now attacking me instead of … women in the landfill," he told reporters at a separate announcement.
"I signed up for this … families of the murder victims did not sign up for this."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont didn't mince words when responding to the Tories' attack ads.
"This is one of the most disgusting campaigns I've ever seen," he told reporters.
"It's going to be bad for the (Progressive Conservatives) because it says that they don't care about anything. They'll stoop to anything to try to get elected, and that's disgraceful."
The NDP and Liberals have both committed to searching the landfill.
The remains of Myran and Harris are believed to have been dumped in the Prairie Green Landfill, a private operation north of Winnipeg, last year.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in their deaths, as well as in the killings of Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found last year at a different landfill, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe or Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2023.
Brittany Hobson and Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press