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Rumours swirl around vacant Tory candidacy

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Four days into the federal election and there are many rumours, but no Tory candidate in Winnipeg South Centre, a riding the Conservatives have salivated over for years.

Late last week, Winnipeg School Division trustee Joyce Bateman was widely rumoured to be the candidate appointed by Tory party brass after Raymond Hall abruptly resigned as the party's nominee earlier this month.

That rumour raised eyebrows because Bateman is a longtime Liberal. She was a member of the Liberal party until very recently and actively supported Ontario MP Ken Dryden in the 2006 Liberal leadership race. Sources say she had expressed interest in running for the Grits when MP Anita Neville retires. Neville is running again this election.

Speculation that Bateman was about to switch parties and run for the Tories was a hot topic in Liberal circles over the weekend, and several Liberals tried to reach her to dissuade her from running.

But the weekend passed with no formal announcement about Bateman's candidacy. Repeated calls to Bateman and local senior Tories, including national party councillor Marni Larkin, have gone unanswered since Thursday. The president of the Tory riding association in Winnipeg South Centre, who recently spoke candidly about divisions within the riding association, is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Sources say the Tories will likely announce their candidate today, perhaps during Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pit stop in Winnipeg. But others involved in the riding association say no official appointment had been made as of Monday afternoon.

A national Tory campaign spokesman said, "There will be a candidate in place soon. Stay tuned."

Earlier this month, Tory candidate Raymond Hall resigned following an acrimonious split in the riding association and criticism Hall wasn't aggressively working the riding. Hall had been campaigning for months. For a time, he had an office in Tuxedo.

The Conservatives have long set their sights on winning Winnipeg South Centre, going back as far as 1984 when it was the only riding the Liberals managed to hang onto in Manitoba during Brian Mulroney's sweep of Western Canada. In the last three federal elections, the Tories have steadily eaten away at Neville's vote, but she has still won comfortably.

For several years, the Conservatives carpet-bombed target ridings with taxpayer-funded flyers that saw MPs sending what amounted to attack ads into ridings held by other parties. Neville was the subject of dozens of those flyers, until the House of Commons outlawed them last year.

Last fall, Manitoba Conservative Sen. Don Plett issued a newsletter to voters in Winnipeg South Centre that also attacked Neville for voting against Conservative crime bills.

Neville voted in favour of most of most Conservative crime bills.

Meanwhile Monday, Neville was working to open a high-profile campaign office in the old Blockbuster video store on Osborne Street, and began calling supporters on the weekend.

-- with files from Mia Rabson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2011 A6

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