Time for a change – it’s the phrase heard throughout the Manitoba election campaign. After 16 years in office, the governing New Democrats face an uphill battle to hold onto power. Add an unpopular premier unable to loosen the PST noose from around his neck and the NDP are the likely losers. The stories on the honesty of Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister and his assets and travels to Costa Rica will certainly hurt. Is it enough to make this election closer than it should be? You will decide tomorrow.
There are 57 constituencies or seats in the Manitoba Legislature. Right now the NDP hold 35 seats, the Progressive Conservatives have 19, the Liberals have a single seat and there are two vacancies. To borrow a football analogy, the PCs are playing offense while the NDP are on defense. Here are the key ridings to watch.
Health Minister Sharon Blady won Kirkfield Park in 2011 by 21 votes. Former Winnipeg City Councilor Scott Fielding is the Progressive Conservatives candidate. He decided not to run in the 2014 civic election knowing he would have a good chance of winning a seat in the Legislature. Kirkfield Park is a key target for the PCs and if it shifts, two other western Winnipeg ridings could switch.
Assiniboia was the property of Jim Rondeau of the NDP. Elected in 1999, he grew the riding into a stronghold for the NDP, winning in 2011 by 18-hundred votes. Steven Fletcher, defeated in the Liberal wave that threw out the Harper government last fall, is in a position to win the riding for the Progressive Conservatives. Before the NDP won in 1999, Assiniboia was considered a Tory stronghold.
St. James is the third west Winnipeg riding that could switch from the NDP. Rookie MLA Deanne Crothers was elected by 1,018 votes in 2011. St. James is a working-class riding that when Liberal in 1988. It switched to the NDP by a razor-thin majority in 1995. If St. James goes to the Progressive Conservatives, it means Pallister wins big.
Dave Gaudreau has likely worked the crowd at his last St. Norbert Farmers’ Market. He won in 2011 for the NDP by 31 votes and has publicly criticized his leader Greg Selinger. Gaudreau took back his remarks but at the door, like so many other NDP candidates, he’s hearing how they like the party and the local candidate but not the leader. Progressive Conservative Jon Reyes has an excellent chance of winning the riding. He also speaks French, which helps at the door and in personal care homes in the riding. The drive north from St. Norbert up Pembina Highway could see two NDP Cabinet Ministers lose their seats too.
Fort Richmond elected Kerri Irvin-Ross in 2003 and she became a key Selinger supporter in his campaign to hang onto his job last year. Irvin-Ross is the child and family services minister and deputy premier. She won by 1,118 votes in 2011. This area once belonged to the Progressive Conservatives before the riding was created. If Irvin-Ross falls then another cabinet minister could lose his job in Fort Garry-Riverview. Redistribution helped the NDP win and hang on to this riding for Education Minister James Allum. He won by almost 2,100 votes in 2011. The Green Party leader James Beddome has been working the riding and thinks he has a chance. I would be surprised if Allum lost but if there is a Tory wave, Allum could be swept away.
The NDP won Fort Rouge by an even larger majority in 2011. Former Finance Minister Jennifer Howard was one of the MLAs who rebelled against Selinger, trying to force his resignation in 2014. She lost that battle and has moved to Ottawa. The riding is a three-way race between star NDP candidate Wab Kinew, Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari and Progressive Conservative candidate Audrey Gordon. The NDP are working hard to keep this riding, hoping Kinew would be a potential leadership candidate to replace Selinger. Bokhari could hold on to her job if she wins the riding. Officials from all three parties privately acknowledge any of the three could win, including Gordon.
River Heights is the only Liberal riding in the Manitoba Legislature, belonging to Dr. Jon Gerrard. It traditionally has the highest voter turnout (72% in 2011) and could switch to the Progressive Conservatives. Gerrard is well liked but he could suffer from the backlash of voters unhappy with the performance of Bokhari as leader. Never write off Gerrard.
Two key ridings the NDP managed to win in 2011 are key targets of the Progressive Conservatives. Both were held by two NDP Cabinet Ministers who were part of the rebel five against Selinger. Erin Selby won Southdale by 764 votes and Theresa Oswald retained Seine River, defeating Gord Steeves by 931 votes. Both are not running again. Here, the PST increase and the Selinger name is poison on the doorstep.
Christine Melnick is also vulnerable in Riel where Rochelle Squires is running again for the Progressive Conservatives.
Up St. Mary’s Road in St. Vital, the NDP are trying to hold on to the riding held by Nancy Allen. She’s not running again either. If the Tories win St. Vital, it will be part of a huge majority government.
Hard to believe Radisson and Transcona are vulnerable but they are in play for the Progressive Conservatives. The incumbent candidates have retired and the ridings would only switch if the PC wave continues through the city. There are more affluent homeowners in both constituencies who are no longer traditional NDP voters.
Rossmere could switch for the exact same reason. Could the former riding of Gary Doer fall too? Condordia should be safe for Matt Wiebe and the NDP.
Ted Marcelino is in trouble for the NDP in Tyndall Park. The NDP won by 589 votes in 2011 and the Progressive Conservatives are expecting to win the riding. There are some who believe the Liberals’ best hope to win a seat is in Burrows. Cindy Lamoureux is the daughter of area Member of Parliament Kevin Lamoureux. Work-ethic coupled with the tarnished NDP brand could make this riding competitive. If Burrows goes, could Kildonan also fall for the NDP? Dave Chomiak was elected in September 1990 to the Manitoba Legislature. If he were to lose it would signal a massive PC majority government.
The Interlake was won by the NDP by 471 votes in 2011. MLA Tom Nevakshonoff has been soundly criticized for his handling of conservation and flood issues. The Progressive Conservatives identified this riding early as a key target. Gimli is also an open riding the Tories expect to win. The margin of victory for the NDP was only 802 votes in 2011. Peter Bjornson quit the riding for the NDP last April.
To the south of Winnipeg, Dawson Trail was created in 2008 through redistribution. It includes several Francophone communities which has helped the NDP retain the riding. But on the eve of the election, Ron Lemieux retired. It is another key riding that could switch. Selkirk could also fall. Finance Minister Greg Dewar won the riding by 1,271 votes in 2011.
NDP cabinet minister Drew Caldwell is in a tight race in Brandon East. He won by 1,153 votes in 2011. History suggests he should win but the PST issue and a strong local Tory campaign could lead to his defeat. Dauphin is one of those ridings targeted by the Tories but never seems to turn away from the NDP. Stan Struthers, another member of the group of five who rebelled against Selinger, used to hold this riding. It could switch as well.
An Insightrix Research poll conducted online shows 49% of decided voters intend to vote for the Progressive Conservatives. The NDP are at 22% followed by the Liberals at 19%. The Green Party gets 9% of support in the online Manitoba Watch panel study from April 14th to 18th. There are 14% undecided. The Insightrix Poll shows the PC have 40% support in Winnipeg with the NDP at 27% and the Liberals at 22%. The online survey sorts for age, gender and region to match the general population of the province.