Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hat tossed into byelection ring

Tories' Kennedy runs; Goertzen still mum

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CONSERVATIVE candidates for Brandon's vacant federal seat are starting to emerge, but the biggest name in Provencher is still playing coy.

Chris Kennedy became the first candidate Monday to declare his intention to seek the Conservative nomination in Brandon-Souris in the seat vacated last week when Tory MP Merv Tweed resigned to become the president of Omnitrax Canada.

At least one Tory MLA is also mulling a run in Brandon-Souris.

Kennedy said Monday he's already spent a week travelling around the southwestern Manitoba riding, visiting about half the constituency's towns. The 29-year-old is widely seen as the man to beat for the Tory nomination.

Meanwhile, Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen is still mum on his plans to run in the Provencher riding left vacant when former public safety minister Vic Toews resigned last month.

On Monday, Goertzen said, at this stage of his political career, his focus is on his duties as house leader for the PCs, who are currently blocking passage of key NDP bills during a rare summer sitting of the Manitoba legislature.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not called the pair of byelections yet, though speculation suggests voting day could be pegged for the end of November.

Despite the Senate scandals plaguing the Harper government and the conventional wisdom that voters use byelections to punish the government, Provencher and Brandon-Souris are considered safe Tory seats. Toews won with 70 per cent of the vote last election, and Brandon-Souris has voted Conservative for 60 years, except for a four-year flirtation with the Chr©tien Liberals in the 1990s.

Kennedy is likely to face a contested nomination. Speculation in Brandon has settled on several other possible candidates, including several Westman MLAs such as Riding Mountain's Leanne Rowat, Spruce Woods' Cliff Cullen and Arthur-Virden's Larry Maguire.

Cullen said Monday he's seriously eyeing the race.

"It's under consideration," Cullen said during a break in Day 71 of the current legislative sitting. "Clearly, it's a big decision to make. Obviously, I'm having discussions with my family so they understand what the implications are and I've also taken a bit of time to talk to a lot of people in the riding to get their views."

Cullen said part of that process is also looking ahead two years to the next provincial election and the possibility the provincial Tories will form government.

"To me it's always been about serving my constituents and whatever I think I can do to serve them better is how I'm going to have to look at it," he said.

Rowat said Monday she has no plans to enter the nomination race. She said she is most interested in provincial and municipal government since federal politics tends to be somewhat removed from the grassroots.

Maguire, who ran federally in 1993 for the Progressive Conservatives but lost to a Liberal candidate, said he's also considering throwing his name into ring. "There's lots of work that needs to be done in the southwest part of Manitoba and I've had some experience," Maguire said Monday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2013 A10

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