Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP sees red, itching to bring seat back to fold

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Rookie Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux says low voter turnout in last fall's byelection helped him cruise to victory, but bigger voter turnout on May 2 will help him, too.

Lamoureux is in a tight race against NDP candidate Rebecca Blaikie to keep control of Winnipeg North. Victory could rest on how many voters bother to cast a ballot in five weeks.

The NDP's famous get-out-the-vote machine faltered during last November's byelection, allowing Lamoureux to beat New Democrat Kevin Chief. This time, the NDP says it will benefit from the momentum that surrounds a national campaign, as well as the sense among voters that their ballot affects who forms government, not just who becomes a local MP.

"NDP supporters stayed home because they didn't think it was possible for us to lose Winnipeg North," said Blaikie. "Now they know it's not just possible, it happened."

Kathleen Monk, the NDP's national spokeswoman, said the party's byelection fate was a direct result of low voter turnout. Only about 31 per cent of the riding's voters showed up last November, dissuaded in part by a nasty blizzard that hit on election day.

"We have 12,000 marks in that riding and we weren't able to bring enough of them out to vote," said Monk. "We're convinced Kevin Lamoureux has 7,000 friends and he managed to bring them all out to vote."

Lamoureux, whose election day vote-pulling skills match the NDP's, says he expects 15 to 20 per cent more riding residents -- perhaps another 3,000 people -- will turn out vote on May 2. He said at least half of them, even some New Democrats, will vote Liberal because they are fed up with the Conservatives and believe the Liberals are the only party that can form government.

"The higher the voter turnout, the better it is for me," said Lamoureux.

Lamoureux considers his "heartland" to be the more suburban areas of the Maples and Inkster, where concern over petty crime and immigration bureaucracy tend to dominate. Voter turnout is higher there.

This time, Lamoureux is focusing his campaign in the true North End, where housing, public safety and the revitalization of Selkirk Avenue tend to resonate with voters. That's traditionally an NDP stronghold, but turnout tends to be lower there.

Turnout in the riding is often abysmal. In the 2008 general election, only about 42 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot. In the 2006 election, it was 50 per cent.

Also running in Winnipeg North is Tory Anne Matejicka, who grew up in Tyndall Park, went to college and university in Winnipeg but now lives in Ottawa and works for the federal government. John Harvie is running for the Green party, as he did in the byelection.

University of Manitoba political scientist Jared Wesley agrees the campaign in Winnipeg North hinges on turnout -- and a low turnout favoured Lamoureux last time.

"It is all about getting out the vote'," said Wesley. "There's a lot on the line for the New Democrats in Winnipeg North."


-- With files from Mia Rabson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2011 A4

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