Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue and red battles brewing

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Does Brandon bode badly? A lot can happen between now and the next federal election in 2015. The Conservatives could change course and recover from the Senate expenses scandal and other ethical lapses. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's rock-star aura could fizzle. There are still two years for each party to work on their ground game, candidate recruitment and cash flow.

But Monday night's unlikely squeaker in Brandon-Souris suggests the Liberals enjoy genuine momentum, even in Western Canada. The next federal election could force Prime Minister Stephen Harper's party into equally tough battles elsewhere in Manitoba, mostly in suburban Winnipeg.

In the last federal election, the Conservative margin of victory in Brandon-Souris was 37 per cent -- a blowout that surprised no one. Monday night, that margin shrunk to less than two per cent, and the Conservatives had to throw everything at the riding to eke out a win, something they won't have the luxury of doing in the next general election.

If the Liberal surge persists, here are four ridings to watch in the lead-up to 2015.

 

Winnipeg South Centre

If national polls continue to give the Liberals the edge, many Tories quietly concede, the River Heights and Linden Woods riding is a lost cause. It's a provincial and federal Liberal stronghold, former cabinet heavyweight Lloyd Axworthy's old riding. But Conservative MP Joyce Bateman, a former Liberal herself, scooped it up in the last election with the barest of margins -- 1.8 per cent or 722 votes. The Liberals have significant political infrastructure in the riding. They're still angry at Bateman for switching sides. It will be their first target in 2015.

 

Saint Boniface

It was the scene of another significant Conservative victory in the 2011 election, when Winnipeg police officer Shelly Glover, now Manitoba's new ranking cabinet minister, won by a healthy 19.5 per cent margin. Already, though, longtime city councillor Dan Vandal has declared his plan to run for the Liberals. It will be the Grits' second top target in Manitoba.

 

Winnipeg South

Ever since Conservative Rod Bruinooge defeated the Liberals in an election-night shocker in 2006, he's expanded his hold on the riding. In 2011, like Glover, he had a 19.5 per cent margin of victory, winning 8,500 more votes than Liberal Terry Duguid. This might be a rougher riding for the Liberals to take in 2015, but it has historically flip-flopped between the two parties.

 

The footnote: Elmwood-Transcona

Of all the ridings in Manitoba, Elmwood-Transcona was the closest race in 2011. Conservative Lawrence Toet won by only 300 votes to steal what was long seen as a diehard NDP riding. If rising Liberal fortunes nationally attract some NDP voters locally, that could help Toet hang on to Elmwood-Transcona.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2013 A4

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