Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

D-Day in Winnipeg North

A lot riding on federal byelection vote

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It's a sought-after seat that could foreshadow who will come out on top in the next federal election.

Winnipeg North voters will cast their ballots today in a hotly contested byelection between NDP candidate Kevin Chief, former Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux and Tory candidate Julie Javier.

Also running are Jeff Coleman of the Pirate Party of Canada, Frank Komarniski of the Communist Party of Canada and Eric Truijen of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada

The race has garnered intense attention from federal leaders, and experts say it could be a barometer for how the parties will fare the next time Canadians head to the polls.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has stumped for Lamoureux four times in the last three months, and on the eve of the election, MP Bob Rae flew to Winnipeg to take in the Grey Cup game next to Lamoureux at a community sports bar Sunday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton have also visited the city riding in the last couple of months, hoping to boost support for their candidate.

"These contests loom larger in significance than they would otherwise," said political expert Paul Thomas. "You throw in whatever you've got.

"My impression is it's a very, very tight race and in the final hours you would be pulling out all the stops."

Thomas, a former University of Manitoba politics professor, said the battleground has been particularly make-or-break for the Liberals, who need to prove to supporters that Ignatieff's cross-Canada summer blitz to connect with voters was not in vain. But Thomas said the Liberals have yet to cut into Harper's support base.

"They need to send a message out to their supporters that 'all the events I went to is paying off and we're getting momentum and leverage we didn't have before,' " he said. "I think there's a level of grumbling beneath the surface in the Liberal party. They say, 'Where's the payoff?' "

Lamoureux said his campaign has been working hard to galvanize support, including appearances by other high-profile Liberals such as MP Justin Trudeau. Lamoureux said the byelection is a big deal for the party, which needs to show it is broadening its appeal.

"I think we need to demonstrate we can win seats in Western Canada," he said.

There has been wide speculation the Tories are trying to cut into his support and prevent the Liberals from winning the seat.

Javier, a prominent Filipina, was a last-minute replacement for Ray Larkin, who decided not to seek the nomination.

The Filipino vote is key to winning the seat, and 2006 census data show one in three area residents is a first- generation Canadian and one in five is Filipino.

Javier, who kept a low campaign profile and did not appear at a recent community forum, did not respond to calls from the Free Press on Sunday.

A feud between Lamoureux and Chief erupted last week when a flyer implied former federal Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy had endorsed Chief, the NDP candidate.

Chief, who was born and raised in the North End, said the byelection has likely received more attention because it is one of only a few federal ridings up for grabs now.

Also in the running is John Harvie of the Green Party.

Two other byelections are being held in the country today, one in Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, which the Conservatives are expected to win easily, and one in the Ontario riding of Vaughan, which has been a Liberal stronghold.

"I know it's certainly a tight race," Chief said. "It's a tight race for all political parties and you can't discount anybody."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2010 A3


Updated on Monday, November 29, 2010 at 3:53 PM CST: Adds John Harvie, Green Party

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