10/03/2011 11:45 EDT | Updated 12/03/2011 05:12 EST

Manitoba Election: Final Push As Leaders Focus On Battleground Winnipeg


WINNIPEG - One of Manitoba's most competitive — and one of its nastiest — election campaigns was in its final hours Monday with the two parties duking it out for victory focusing their attention on Winnipeg.

NDP Leader Greg Selinger spent the day hitting six key ridings in the city that could determine whether his party is re-elected Tuesday. Conservative Hugh McFadyen was also door-knocking in some of the same Winnipeg ridings — crucial seats he must win to have a chance of becoming premier.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard, who faces the obliteration of his party and the loss of his own seat, had no public events scheduled. He was making every effort to get supporters to the polls.

"We're working very hard, using phone calls, door-to-door, using social media to just make sure that everyone gets out," said Gerrard, who spent the day shoring up support in his own Winnipeg riding.

McFadyen, who was endorsed by the provincial police union at the last minute, said he was just trying to talk to as many voters as possible.

"We're delighted with the campaign," he said at a stop in a tight southern Winnipeg riding. "I'm a football fan. I've always admired quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Joe Montana who save their best plays for late in the game. That's what we're doing today."

Selinger was too busy door-knocking to respond to interview requests Monday.

All three parties have a lot riding on what happens Tuesday. The Liberals could lose their only seat and be wiped off the electoral map. The Conservatives are closer than they have been to power in 12 years, but have been dogged by negative ads portraying their leader as someone who would privatize public services and fire nurses.

For the NDP, it's the party's first election without the charismatic Gary Doer, who led them to victory three times before leaving to become Canada's ambassador to the United States.

The campaign has been called a nasty one by Manitoba standards.

The NDP started running attack ads in the summer, in which they characterized McFadyen as a leader with a hidden agenda to privatize and gut health care. The Tories also ran negative ads in which they called downtown Winnipeg a "war zone" and accused the New Democrats of being soft on crime.

The Liberals have been undercut by two high-profile party members, who have endorsed the NDP in a tight Winnipeg race. Others have openly mused about Gerrard's leadership. An anonymous letter mailed out to some residents in Winnipeg recently called Liberal candidate Joe Chan "Chinese trash" and "a criminal."

Observers say it's not surprising that the leaders would focus on Winnipeg during the campaign's last day given the city holds 31 of the legislature's 57 seats.

"It's the most competitive election since 1999 and Manitoba elections, when they are tight like this, are won in a half-dozen to a dozen ridings," said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba's political science department.

Thomas said the polls seem to show the NDP has the edge simply because the party has held its ground.

"They would have to slip eight seats in order to have their majority threatened," he said. "Mr. McFadyen had to hope to get early momentum and win the campaign in order to get the nine or 10 seats he needs to get close to majority status."

A record 78,000 Manitobans have already turned out to vote in advance polls.

— With files from Steve Lambert