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Dauphin politics: grain and guns

Wheat board election shades federal vote

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Grain, guns and the shadow of rogue MP Inky Mark are defining the campaign in Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette.

And it's a real campaign, though the riding is widely expected to remain Tory blue and the byelection race has paled beside nastier ones in Winnipeg North and Vaughan, Ont.

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Dauphin's been an unlikely political hotbed lately -- the town had one of the most raucous civic election races in the province. After Mark resigned his parliamentary post to return to small-town politics, he lost to lawyer Eric Irwin in a squeaker.

And while five federal candidates are braving the snowy campaign trail, there's a concurrent race underway to elect a new regional director to the Canadian Wheat Board, the fate of which all candidates agree is top-of-mind in the riding.

Top-of-mind among politicos is whether Mark's personal popularity in the riding automatically translates into votes for Tory nominee Robert Sopuck. Mark was frequently offside with Prime Minister Stephen Harper even at the end, raising a stink about a nomination process Mark said the party had manipulated.

"People saw him as standing up for them and not necessarily toeing the party line," said NDP candidate Denise Harder, who has run an aggressive campaign. "There was a bit of pride in that."

Sopuck, who has an impressive resumé and jokingly describes himself as a "right-wing environmentalist," said his years working as an environmental expert with government taught him it's important to forge relationships where cabinet ministers take your phone calls. That's the best way to guarantee the needs of the constituency, everything from better cellphone and Internet service to federal pasture-rate reform, will be taken seriously.

"I intend to be a team player," said Sopuck, his voice raspy from schmoozing voters at Christmas craft sales and fall suppers.

But he could already be slightly offside with his party over the fate of the wheat board's monopoly marketing system. The Tories have tried to eliminate the single desk and rejig how wheat board directors are elected, but Sopuck said only farmers should decide what happens to the wheat board.

"There's a lot of support for the wheat board over all parts of the political spectrum from left to right," said Sopuck.

Harder agreed, saying the wheat board is among the top two issues in the ridings, especially with a directors' election underway. She said producers fear the erosions of the wheat board's power and changes to freight rates that will ensue.

Liberal candidate and young businessman Scott Sarna said he's heard a mix of views from farmers -- most prefer the wheat board but some would like reforms or alternative marketing options. He said the party is toying with the idea of allowing farmers to decide riding by riding on the issue.

Federally, in its several incarnations, the riding has been solidly Tory for the last 50 years, except for a short period during former prime minister Jean Chrétien's 1993 sweep when the Reform/Tory split allowed Liberal Marlene Cowling to squeak out a victory. Mark defeated Cowling in 1997.

But the provincial NDP -- more centrist than their federal counterparts -- have held the region provincially for 15 years. Two cabinet ministers -- Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk and Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers -- hail from the area.

Sopuck says it's the long-gun registry, a program still reviled in most rural areas and one the federal NDP wants to reform instead of scrap, that nudges provincial NDP supporters away from the federal party.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

 

WHO'S

RUNNING

Jerome Dondo -- Christian Heritage Party of Canada:

Dondo is an accounting consultant for First Nations who is active in his church and serves as a school trustee with the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine. Dondo ran in the last federal election.

 

Denise Harder -- New Democratic Party:

A First Nations woman, Harder worked for years in the Portage and District General Hospital as everything from a nurse's aide to a payroll staffer before becoming a CUPE national staff rep. She's the chairwoman of the Central Manitoba Regional Health Authority and ran provincially for the NDP in 2007 in Ste. Rose.

 

Christopher Scott Sarna -- Liberal Party of Canada

Known as Scott, he's the young CEO of several commercial real estate companies, including his family's business, the Elkhorn Resort.

 

Robert Sopuck -- Conservative Party of Canada

A fisheries biologist, Sopuck consulted in the fields of environmental assessment and resource management and was former premier Gary Filmon's sustainable development adviser. He was also the environmental director of the Pine Falls Paper Company in the late 1990s.

 

Kate Storey -- Green Party of Canada

Storey runs an organic farm near Grandview and has been active in several farming groups, including the Manitoba Organic Alliance, the National Farmers Union and the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2010 A7

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