WINNIPEG -- Manitoba's major political parties all cut their spending in the last election campaign, despite having higher donation and expense limits.

The Progressive Conservatives spent $1.27 million on their central campaign for the Sept. 10 vote that saw them win a second consecutive majority -- down $260,000 from the 2016 election, documents recently filed with Elections Manitoba indicate.

The limit for party spending was $1.9 million. The numbers do not include money spent by local candidates, which dropped even more sharply.

The New Democrat and Liberal central campaigns spent less than half of what they did in 2016 -- $547,000 and $129,000, respectively.

Political analyst Paul Thomas said one reason for the lower spending was Premier Brian Pallister's decision to call the election a year ahead of schedule -- at a time when the opposition parties were still rebuilding from the 2016 vote.

"I think the opposition parties were both in a financial hole and lacked robust fundraising machinery," Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said Monday.

"A September election date left little time after the summer period for organizing and fundraising."

The Tories had been consistently ahead in the polls, Thomas added, and likely did not feel the need to break the bank in order to get re-elected. The Tories finished with 36 of the 57 legislature seats, four fewer than in 2016.

NDP president David Woodbury said his party targeted its spending and wound up winning four more seats than last time.

"We looked at the money that we were going to have available and we said, 'What is the most effective campaign that we could have?"' he said.

"I think that in terms of the dollars spent and the votes received, we did very well."

The election was the first one under new rules set by the governing Tories that raised the limit on political donations. Spending limits, which are set by Elections Manitoba and are based on a formula that accounts for inflation and the number of registered voters, were also higher.

Financial returns for local candidates show a distinct pattern of where parties focused their efforts.

The cash-strapped Green party was hoping for a breakthrough in the Wolseley seat in Winnipeg. Green candidate David Nickarz spent $28,000 on his campaign -- three times as much as what Green leader James Beddome spent in Fort Rouge -- but finished second behind New Democrat Lisa Naylor, who spent $29,000.

Tory candidates in NDP strongholds in central Winnipeg registered only a few hundred dollars each in expenses, as did New Democrats in some rural Tory bastions such as Midland and Turtle Mountain.

The Liberals, who won only three seats and failed to retain official party status, had several candidates in rural areas who registered zero dollars in campaign spending.

The lower campaign spending should help the political parties pay off their debts more quickly than in 2016. The NDP and Liberals took 18 months to get out of the red following that election, and their deficits from the latest campaign are much lower.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2020