WINNIPEG — First Nations residents forced to evacuate their Manitoba homes after a recent snowstorm expressed frustration Monday that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was campaigning in the area instead of helping out.
Though NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he’d changed his own travel plans to avoid the province, Scheer’s itinerary was not adjusted, and he dodged questions about whether he too should have considered another plan.
Scheer said his campaign did not want to disrupt the important work the Red Cross and others were doing to assist those affected by the storm.
He said he made a personal donation to the Red Cross, though would not disclose the amount, and encouraged others to do the same.
“We are sending our best wishes, our hearts are going out to those people who are affected by the storm,” he told reporters.
“We know the important work to clean up afterwards and get power restored is underway, and we certainly hope that happens as quickly as possible.”
Approximately 16,393 Manitoba homes and businesses remained without power Monday evening in the wake of a snowstorm that the province’s Crown energy utility said had left an unprecedented amount of damage to transmission lines and towers. It could take more than a week to repair.
Premier Brian Pallister had declared a state of emergency early Sunday morning.
Scheer’s campaign pulled into the Radisson Hotel in downtown Winnipeg midday Monday for the first stop on the last week of the election.
His theme for the final days is to lay out what a Conservative government would do during its first 100 days in office.
He promised Monday to table a fiscal update within 45 days of forming government that would include implementing tax credits for green home renovations, public transit and children’s arts and fitness programs by Jan. 1, 2020.
But his message track was quickly derailed when his campaign team walked into the lobby to find babies, teenagers, their parents and grandparents from Lake Manitoba impatiently milling around.
Their First Nation was one of six evacuated after the storm, and one resident nearly broke down in tears as she described what her family had been through since their power cut out on Saturday morning.
Margaret Missyabit said she walked from her house to her brother’s, after failing to get any information by phone on when the power might come back on. It was there she learned they were being evacuated.
Many people had little time to take anything but the clothes on their back, and since arriving in Winnipeg have been given no support beyond a hotel room and meal vouchers from local authorities.
She grew agitated when asked whether she thought Scheer should be campaigning in the area.
“No,” Missyabit exclaimed.
“He should be helping out, if he wants to campaign, he should help the people.”
Missyabit said the government needs to step up and help not just her community, but the thousands of others unsure of where they will sleep tonight.
Her family was in the process of being moved out of the Radisson, and she had no idea where they were going next, she said.
“We’re not animals to be shuffled around like this. It’s frustrating.”
Scheer’s campaign said they did not know the hotel was being used as a temporary residency, and did not request for the group to be moved to another location.
At an evening rally, Candice Bergen, a Conservative MP running for re-election, said Scheer made the right choice to be in the province on Monday.
“Even though we’ve been through a storm, and we’re going through a bit of a battle, we are resilient, we come together, we fight together,” she told hundreds of cheering supporters packed into a local curling club.
“Manitobans care about this election and they are so happy that Andrew Scheer is here today to support us.”
Winnipeg is a potential hot spot for Conservatives this election. The Liberals took seven out of eight seats in the city in 2015, a feat not expected to be repeated this time around.
But Scheer warned those thinking of casting ballots for them that if they do, they’ll just end up with a coalition government of the Liberals and NDP, and the result will be life that’s just more expensive for everyone.
``I do not believe that Canadians want a Trudeau-NDP coalition, a government where Justin Trudeau may be the spokesperson but the NDP are calling the shots.′
Scheer campaigned later Monday in one riding the Conservatives are hoping to win back from the Liberals: Kildonan-St.Paul. Scheer visited an assisted living facility with local candidate Raquel Dancho. The duo poured coffee and tea for residents and made small talk about the food, and the Thanksgiving holiday.
One man said to Scheer: “You look familiar,” to which he replied, “I hope so.”
Another resident appeared to know exactly who he was, as she pressed him on his position on pharmacare. Jeanette Goertzen told him she is Metis, and has limited drug coverage. She pointed to her hearing aid, noting it cost her thousands, and she did not recoup the full cost from the province.
Scheer told her his government is committed to not cutting the amount of money they transfer to the provinces for health care, and she nodded, saying later she appreciated the answer.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 14, 2019.