Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Campaigning at a sprint

Tight Fort Whyte byelection timeline pushes candidates

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The man who wants to be Manitoba's next premier moves so quickly, it's difficult to keep up.

His tall height and long legs give him an edge, along with his desire.

Brian Pallister, the new leader of the province's Progressive Conservatives, not only wants to win the Fort Whyte byelection, he wants to conquer it.

On this night, Pallister, 58, and his campaign team started their second swing through the constituency in the hope of touching every home and apartment at least twice before advance polls open this Saturday.

This campaign isn't easy, not only for Pallister, but for the other three legitimate candidates as well.

Premier Greg Selinger called the byelection on Aug. 3, giving each campaign team five weeks to get their message out before voting day on Sept. 4. The byelection was called after former Tory leader Hugh McFadyen resigned.

Pallister said given it's the height of summer holidays, the PC campaign team has found four out of five households empty on weekends. At the same time, campaigning on evening weekdays is limited as it gets dark earlier, around 8:30 p.m. Knocking on doors after the sun sets doesn't win voters.

Which is one reason Pallister is chatting up virtually everyone he meets.

"I think Pallister is going to win," area resident Mohinder Nijjar said. "This area has been Conservative for a long time."

"There is no NDP in this part of town," Moises Briceno adds.

Well, actually, there is one. Her name is Brandy Schmidt and she's carrying the ball as the candidate for the NDP.

"I do know the numbers," Schmidt said. "It always has been a Conservative neighbourhood. There's no denying that. But we're finding that it's making a difference just by being out there every day and knocking on doors. We're connecting with residents and hearing what their concerns are."

Schmidt, 30, said her top goal is telling Fort Whyte residents they do have a choice other than voting Conservative.

She spoke about hot-button issues including traffic congestion and education, adding officials are watching the demographics in the area, specifically at Bridgwater Forest (the first neighbourhood in Waverley West), to see if the numbers warrant building a kindergarten to Grade 8 school.

Liberal standard-bearer Bob Axworthy, the only candidate who lives in Fort Whyte, said congestion and a shortage of schools and daycares are among the biggest issues in the constituency.

"I think people want to know that their candidate -- or who they're going to elect -- understands what it's like to get stopped at the train at Waverley and Taylor three times a day."

Axworthy, 58, a businessman and longtime Liberal activist, said he's had a "pretty good" reception at the door as he's campaigned in the constituency. He claims to be running ahead of Pallister in committed voters.

"I'm giving Mr. Pallister a full-court press right now," said Axworthy.

Green party member Donnie Benham, 24, entered the ring to represent Manitoba's fourth party and get more experience campaigning. He ran for the Greens in Tuxedo in the fall provincial election.

Benham, the son of former city councillor Donald Benham, has proposed if elected, he'd table a private member's bill to ensure all successful candidates of a general election would not be able to step down until the next general election. If they did, they'd forfeit all government moneys and pensions.

 

-- With files from Larry Kusch

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Who's on the ballot

Brian Pallister (Progressive Conservative) Pallister is the new leader of the party and a former MLA and MP. Before taking the reins of the PC party, he was a financial consultant based in Portage la Prairie.

Brandy Schmidt (NDP) A relative newcomer to politics, she works for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada as manager of community engagement.

Bob Axworthy (Liberal) Axworthy is the younger brother of former Manitoba Liberal MP Lloyd Axworthy. He's a businessman and longtime Liberal activist.

Donnie Benham (Green party) Benham, son of former Winnipeg city councillor Donald Benham, ran in Tuxedo in the 2011 provincial election. He works in security at the airport.

Darrell Ackman (Independent) Ackman was charged earlier this year with allegedly recruiting girls to appear in porn and work in the sex trade. He is out on bail with a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and is prohibited from contacting women under 18.

 

How Fort Whyte votes

In the 2011 general election, the PCs, represented by former Tory leader Hugh McFadyen, won by a plurality of 2,939 votes over the NDP. The Liberals finished a distant third. Voter turnout was 62 per cent of registered voters casting ballots. The PCs have held Fort Whyte -- solidly -- since it was created in 1999.

 

Biggest issues

The CN rail crossing at Waverley Street and Taylor Avenue: Kenaston Boulevard to the west got its underpass at the same rail line in 2006 and residents say it's time for the same thing to happen at the Waverley crossing. Traffic is increasing as south Winnipeg grows and is expected to spike when the new IKEA and the new football stadium at the U of M open.

 

Candidate controversy

Darrell Ackman's entry into the byelection put it in the news cycle for all the wrong reasons. It also exposed a weakness in the province's Elections Act. Ackman collected 130 signatures as part of the nomination process, good enough for Elections Manitoba. By law, only those incarcerated or convicted are prevented from running. Ackman has not been convicted and is presumed innocent.

 

Advance polls

They open at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Fort Whyte returning office, 2233 McGillivray Blvd. and Linden Woods Community Centre, 414 Lindenwood Dr. W. Bring government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's licence, or two other identifying documents.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2012 A7

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