Constituents of the Fort Whyte riding, located in south Winnipeg, will have their voices heard in an upcoming provincial byelection. This contest was triggered by the resignation of former premier Brian Pallister, the riding’s longtime MLA, last year.
While the date has yet to be determined, the campaign is well underway. The NDP has nominated Trudy Schroeder, a well-known figure in Winnipeg’s arts scene, and the Liberal Party has nominated Willard Reaves, a retired Winnipeg Blue Bombers player.
“I’ve been out there door-knocking ... (for) 96 days now,” Reaves says.
When asked why he decided to throw his hat into the ring, he says “I just feel that we’ve gotten to the point where the divide in our political arena is too toxic to get anything done” and feels he can contribute to changing this.
Obby Khan, a business owner and another former Blue Bomber, recently won the Tory nomination. He is the PC Party’s first Muslim candidate and endorsed Premier Heather Stefanson’s leadership campaign in the fall.
Barry Ferguson, senior scholar at the University of Manitoba, says that while voters may be freer from partisan identities in byelections, they are “seldom harbingers of big change.”
“Within Manitoba, the party lines are pretty strongly drawn. The NDP has been (mostly) well-disciplined and has tried to broaden its base. The Conservatives (are) more dependent on its traditional ‘base,’ while the Liberals have been prone to thrashing around with no real base and a domineering federal wing,” he says in an email to The Uniter.
“It is interesting to watch byelections for signs about the parties’ state of organization, ability to attract good candidates and party discipline,” Ferguson says.
Fort Whyte is one of Manitoba’s most prosperous ridings. According to 2016 data, it has a median household income of $117,535. It is also one of the province’s most ethnically diverse areas, and immigrants comprise 24.9 per cent of its population.
In the 2019 election, the PC Party received 56.8 per cent of the votes, the NDP received 17.8 per cent and the Liberal Party received 17.5 per cent. Turnout was 60.25 per cent.
Given the domination of the PCs in past elections, Khan is the front-runner. However, as Ferguson notes, the incumbent party is not without baggage.
“The Tories have looked like bunglers on (COVID-19) and weak on healthcare planning,” he says.
Reaves says this issue is the focus of his campaign.
“Our health system is an absolute mess. You can’t put it any other way,” he says.
A recent poll showed that Premier Heather Stefanson, leader of the PC Party, has an approval rating of 21 per cent, the lowest of all Canadian premiers.
The NDP and the PC Party did not answer The Uniter’s request for comment.
Published in Volume 76, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 17, 2022)