Maybe it’s the sudden revival of Liberal fortunes, with a celebrity federal leader whose buzz has infected local Liberal backroomers. Maybe it’s the dramatic unpopularity of the provincial NDP, battered by mini-scandals and trailing the Tories in Winnipeg for the first time in years. Maybe it’s pent-up political energy at the end of a three-year, campaign-free lull.
Whatever it is, the game-planning, gossiping and guessing among Winnipeg’s politicos has begun in earnest as the city gears up for another round of elections. There’s a civic vote in October, a federal election a year later and a provincial race in the spring of 2016.
That upcoming cluster of elections has the province’s political machinery ticking again. Candidates are coming out of the woodwork, wooing key backroom staff, selling memberships for nomination races and making plans.
For the first time in years, it seems like Manitoba’s normally boring political landscape is shifting.
After 15 years of electoral domination, the provincial NDP suddenly seems genuinely vulnerable, and Leader Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative opposition is better-organized and drawing blood, despite some gaffs.
The NDP trails badly in the polls, even in Winnipeg and even among women. Though it will be a few months before it becomes clear which MLA may retire, there’s already speculation veteran NDP cabinet ministers such as Nancy Allan and Dave Chomiak may not seek re-election.
Complicating the political equation is new momentum among Manitoba Liberals, who have a new leader in Rana Bokhari and hope to woo disgruntled New Democrats.
On the civic election front, despite finance laws that handcuff candidates for the next few months, organizing has begun. The race for mayor is wide open with as many as seven potential candidates, including Mayor Sam Katz, who may still run again despite polling at just 22 per cent.
In the event Katz does not run for a fourth term, the same Probe poll gave Wasylycia-Leis’s campaign a significant lead and new momentum despite only lukewarm support from lefties over the last several months. Meanwhile, several councillors are moving on, making bids for mayor or MP and opening the field in as many as four wards, and St. Norbert and Daniel McIntyre are already races to watch. Half of council could be new come Oct. 23.
Federally, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s surprising strength in last fall’s Brandon-Souris byelection has ramped up speculation about who will run for the Liberals in Winnipeg South Centre, the party’s top target and the scene of significant political manoeuvring. Liberals there started thinking big, even sending out feelers to star candidates such as a CBC News personality and the oft-mentioned Gail Asper, who is unlikely to run for anything until the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is open (and she can get dibs on a cabinet seat).
Backroom organizers have been shaking the trees for candidates and campaign workers in recent months. Below, we lay out a few of the key names and neighbourhoods to watch.
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CHARLESWOOD / ST. JAMES
Jim Rondeau (NDP): A powerhouse constituency guy, he was dumped from provincial cabinet late last year and took it hard. He's pondering his future and won't rule out a run for mayor or a federal run in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, possibly for the Liberals.
Robert Harper (Con): Planning to seek the Tory nomination provincially in Assiniboia, Rondeau's riding.
Scott Gillingham (Con): A pastor who did well for the provincial Tories in 2011 in the area, he's touted as a possible council candidate in St. James.
Scott Fielding (Con): The St. James councillor is not running again for council but might run for mayor, for the provincial Tories in St. James or Fort Whyte or federally.
Justin Swandel (right-leaning Lib): St. Norbert councillor.
Louise May (left-leaning): The organic farmer and former head of the St. Norbert Arts Centre may run again for council in St. Norbert. In the last election, she did surprisingly well in a two-way race against incumbent Justin Swandel, winning 44 per cent of the vote.
Sachit Mehra (Lib): The owner of the East India Company restaurant and the new chairman of the Downtown Biz is running for council in St. Norbert. Mehra's campaign is being chaired by NDPer Geof Langen and Grit Terry Duguid, a centre-left coalition that could make for an interesting race in October.
Keith Bellamy (NDP): The New Democrat who now works for the Winnipeg Folk Festival is almost certainly making another bid for council.
Marianne Cerilli (NDP): The anti-poverty activist and former MLA is considering a run for council in the Daniel McIntyre ward.
Harvey Smith (NDP): The four-term councillor has so far been able to dodge every challenge on the left, even though he's largely lost the confidence of New Democrats. His race is shaping up like it did in 2010, as a four-way split.
Cindy Gilroy-Price (Lib): The Liberal is planning to run again for council against Coun. Harvey Smith.
Amanda Lang (Lib): The CBC business reporter and anchor, who grew up in Winnipeg, is being wooed by local Liberals looking for a star candidate in Winnipeg South Centre. A long shot.
Karen Taraska-Alcock (Lib): The marketing and human resources consultant, and widow of local Liberal heavyweight Reg Alcock, is expected to seek the Liberal nomination this spring in Winnipeg South Centre, the Grits' top target seat in the city.
Maurice Alexander (Lib): The young provincial policy analyst has already put his hat in the ring for the Liberal nomination in Winnipeg South Centre.
Jim Carr (Lib): The former MLA and leader of the Business Council of Manitoba is widely expected to challenge Karen Taraska-Alcock for the Liberal nomination in Winnipeg South Centre. If he wins, and if the Liberals form government next year, Carr could be a cabinet contender.
Jon Gerrard (Lib): What will the elder Liberal statesman do? Will he run again in River Heights or clear the way for rookie provincial Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari to run in the only semi-safe provincial Liberal seat? Could Gerrard be eyeing a federal run in the Interlake against Tory MP James Bezan? He's keeping Liberals guessing, but looks likely to run again in River Heights in 2016.
John Orlikow (Lib): The River Heights councillor is running for mayor.
Brian Pallister (Con): It's a seemingly crazy idea, but appears the Tory leader will run in River Heights, giving up his safe Fort Whyte seat for a battle, likely with a Liberal. Pallister lives in River Heights, and the riding likes to elect power-brokers, but it's hard to understand why he'd give his party a huge additional headache during what's expected to be a rough-and-tumble provincial election.
Rana Bokhari (Lib): The new provincial Liberal leader is focused on building the party's finances and its ground game and has postponed a decision on where she'll run in 2016. Speculation has settled on River Heights if MLA Jon Gerrard steps down, St. Nortbert or Fort Whyte.
N. KILDONAN /ST. PAUL
Jeff Browaty (Con): The Winnipeg city councillor is widely expected to run provincially or federally at some point. Likely locations include River East, the provincial seat held by Tory Bonnie Mitchelson (who's had a second wind as a longtime opposition MLA) or the federal riding of Kildonan-St. Paul.
Bonnie Mitchelson (Con): Tory MLA for River East
Joy Smith (Con): Speculation about the MP's future is frequent, and many expect family health reasons and a single-minded focus on the human-trafficking issue will prompt Smith to step down before the next federal election.
James Bezan (Con): Tory MP
ELMWOOD / TRANSCONA
Daniel Blaikie (NDP): The young electrician is putting his name recognition to work, running for the federal NDP nomination in Elmwood-Transcona, former stronghold of his dad, Bill Blaikie.
Thomas Steen (Con): Quiet Elmwood-East Kildonan councillor.
Jason Schreyer (NDP): The son of former premier Ed Schreyer plans to run for council in Elmwood-East Kildonan.
Daryl Livingstone (NDP): NDP activist and former assistant to Elmwood-East Kildonan councillor Lillian Thomas is running for the council seat.
Jim Maloway (NDP): He's still the area's MLA but already he's acting like the MP-in-waiting, putting out flyers about federal pension reform that needle the Harper government. The rogue New Democrat has already made the leap once into federal politics and will challenge Blaikie for the Elmwood-Transcona NDP nomination.
Lawrence Toet (Con): MP for Elmwood-Transcona.
Shelly Glover (Con): Heritage minister and Tory MP for St. Boniface.
Matt Allard (NDP): The new head of the Chambre de commerce francophone de Saint-Boniface, is running in Dan Vandal's vacant council seat.
Dan Vandal (Lib): The longtime St. Boniface city councillor is running for the Liberals in St. Boniface. It will be a gloves-off riding to watch in 2015, one the Liberals hope Trudeaumania will help them win.
Kevin Lamoureux (Lib): MP for Winnipeg North.
Suzanne Hyrnk (NDP): The Winnipeg School Division trustee will seek the NDP nomination in Winnipeg North.
Brian Bowman (Con): The privacy lawyer is expected to run for mayor.
Gord Steeves (Lib/Con): The former councillor and former provincial Tory candidate is running for mayor.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis (NDP): The former MP is expected to make another bid for mayor. She lost to Sam Katz in 2010 by 25,000 votes.
Paula Havixbeck (Con): The Charleswood-Tuxedo councillor may run for mayor.
Sam Katz (Con): Despite scandals, he's playing coy about a bid for re-election but trails badly in the polls.
Rod Bruinooge (Con): Backbench MP for Winnipeg South
Terry Duguid (Lib): The fourth time may be a charm for Duguid, who hopes to run again for the Liberals in Winnipeg South. He lost to Bruinooge by 8,500 votes in 2011, and lost twice to the Tories in Kildonan-St. Paul before that.