POLITICS

NDP Government In Manitoba Damaged Federal Counterparts, Observers Say

09/22/2015 12:27 EDT | Updated 09/22/2016 05:12 EDT
Winnipeg appears to be an anomaly of sorts for the Oct. 19 federal election, with the Liberals gaining ground and ahead of the NDP.

While polls suggest the NDP is benefiting from falling Conservative support in most of the country, the Liberals appear to be scooping up former Tory voters in the Manitoba capital.

Observers suggest the NDP brand has been badly damaged in Manitoba by the provincial NDP government and its moves to raise taxes, run up deficits and still leave long waiting lists for health care. This comes on top of a failed revolt by senior cabinet ministers, who demanded the resignation of Premier Greg Selinger.

"I think it's true that if it hadn't been for the (provincial) NDP troubles, the upswing in (federal) NDP support might have been stronger, so it's blunted that momentum they've had nationally," said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba.

The Conservatives have a lot to lose after they surprised many in 2011 by winning six of the eight seats in the city. They narrowly took a NDP bastion in Elmwood-Transcona, a riding that had voted orange since its creation in 1988. They also won in Winnipeg South-Centre, which was once considered the safest Liberal seat in the West under Lloyd Axworthy and Anita Neville. The Conservatives also saw Shelly Glover easily re-elected in St. Boniface, after she first took the longtime Liberal riding in 2008.

Polls have suggested that Conservative votes are bleeding to the Liberals,

"I think that people are a little more hesitant right now to say they're supporting the NDP here in Manitoba," said Jeff Kovalik-Plouffe, campaign manager for Jim Carr, Liberal candidate in Winnipeg South-Centre.

That is one of the ridings that could change hands on election night.

Carr is a former member of the provincial legislature and, until recently, president of the Business Council of Manitoba. He faces incumbent Conservative Joyce Bateman, a backbencher known for her constituency work who eked out a victory last time by 722 votes.

Bateman dropped a pre-election goodie just before the current campaign began, announcing money to help replace a level train crossing that ties up traffic on a major thoroughfare for many of her constituents. The crossing will be replaced with an underpass.

"This has been important for a long time. I got it done," she said in July, when she announced $46 million for the project.

Bateman also has some ammunition against Carr. He advocated for a provincial sales tax increase a few years before the NDP government imposed one in 2013, to the anger of many.

The NDP have never performed strongly in Winnipeg South-Centre, but are hope for better results under candidate Matt Henderson, a popular teacher.

Another potential seat change is shaping up in Elmwood-Transcona. The working-class seat was long held by veteran New Democrat Bill Blaikie. His son, Daniel Blaikie, wants to recapture the riding that Conservative Lawrence Toet won by just 300 votes in 2011.

The younger Blaikie said he's not too concerned about the effect of the provincial NDP's unpopularity.

"It is something I was wondering about, but what I've found on the doorstep is that people know very well who Stephen Harper is, they want change in Ottawa."

Toet is running again, while the Liberals are putting up Andrea Richardson-Lipon, an audiologist.

One hurdle facing the Conservatives this time around is the loss of some  high-profile incumbents. Rod Bruinooge has left Winnipeg South, to be replaced by Gordon Giesbrecht, a popular academic known as "Professor Popsicle" for his studies into cold-weather survival.

Joy Smith is not seeking re-election in Kildonan-St. Paul.

Shelly Glover, the Conservative senior cabinet minister from Manitoba, is leaving politics after twice winning in the St. Boniface riding, now renamed St. Boniface-St. Vital.  Businessman Francois Catellier has the Tory nomination.

The Liberals have put up Dan Vandal, a former city councillor who is well-known in the area's large francophone community, while Erin Selby, a member of the legislature since 2007 carries the NDP flag.

Thomas said losing incumbents can affect a party's chances, but local candidates and issues can be overshadowed.

"Often it's very difficult for local factors to trump bigger trends taking place nationally," he said.

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