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Seats are must-wins for Conservatives

Traditional Tory ridings voted NDP in 2007

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If there are two ridings that rankle the Tories, it's Kirkfield Park and Southdale.

They're both traditional Tory strongholds -- middle-class, suburban and not particularly diverse. The NDP stole both of them in 2007, a humiliation for the Tories. Both are must-wins if the Conservatives are to form government on Oct. 4, and some Tories say if Southdale and Kirkfield Park don't switch, it's unlikely key ridings such as Seine River or Assiniboia will either.

With just days left in the campaign, here's how two of the hottest races in Winnipeg are shaping up.

 

Southdale

TORY candidate Judy Eastman got the dreaded question right off the hop: What's all this about privatizing Manitoba Hydro?

But this time there was a twist. Almost before Eastman could deliver her spiel -- "We have never said we would privatize Hydro. We don't stand for that" -- the retired CN Rail manager allowed that he might be open to selling Manitoba Hydro if it helped clean up what he called a bloated, inefficient company.

Eastman gently sidestepped that perilous issue, saying the Tories don't favour political interference in Hydro. She won the gentleman's vote anyway.

It's the third time Eastman, a real estate appraiser, has canvassed the street in the south part of Royalwood, one of the neighbourhoods in the battleground riding of Southdale.

A few blocks away in Island Lakes, Premier Greg Selinger knocked on doors Tuesday afternoon with NDP candidate and Advanced Education Minister Erin Selby.

Last election, Selby was the party's unexpected hero, the young mother and former CTV anchor who knocked off a longtime Tory MLA and was in line for cabinet. This time, it's payback.

Eastman has been door-knocking for a year, and Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen has visited the riding no fewer than four times so far, using it as the backdrop to announce his Lake Winnipeg cleanup plan and pledge a new multiplex for south Winnipeg.

Eastman argues the fast-growing riding is underserved by rec centres, schools and other amenities, despite a $4-million expansion to the Southdale Community Centre promised by the NDP last election.

But Selby, who appears to be winning the sign war, says the race feels about the same as it did in 2007. The one hitch is the loss of Windsor Park, an NDP-friendly neighbourhood now part of the Radisson riding.

Even without Windsor Park, Selby says she still would have won Southdale in 2007. The real question mark is the new subdivision of Sage Creek, home to many young families. Younger people tend to favour the NDP, but Sage Creek is also relatively affluent, which might tilt it toward the Tories.

Both parties have promised a new school for Sage Creek.

The Liberal candidate is ophthalmologist Amarjit Singh.

 

Kirkfield Park

KIRKFIELD Park's conservative roots run deep.

Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen grew up in KP, and it was represented for years by former leader Stuart Murray and party titan Eric Stefanson before him. It's got a Conservative city councillor and a Conservative MP.

Despite that, NDP MLA Sharon Blady stole the riding easily in 2007 from the Tories. This time, it's a dogfight.

"We're fighting in the trenches," said Blady, a nursing instructor who is easily recognized by the pink streak in her hair.

Blady is facing Conservative candidate Kelly de Groot, who's been door-knocking for nearly two years and has the credentials to govern.

If de Groot and her party win on Oct. 4, she would likely be cabinet material. De Groot held senior jobs in the province's finance department and is now the chief operating officer of the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation.

But de Groot is also seen by some, including some Tories, as an opportunist. She ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2006 and then ran in 2007 in neighbouring Assiniboia against New Democrat Jim Rondeau, the healthy living minister. Instead of running again against the indefatigable Rondeau this time, de Groot chose Kirkfield Park, where she lives.

De Groot says her previous bids for office are evidence of her commitment to public service and her tenacity.

Last election, the fate of the Grace Hospital was a key doorstep issue, especially among the riding's large seniors population. This time, the Grace isn't on the radar. The NDP diffused that issue months ago by building an Access Centre and investing $20 million in the emergency room, a move Blady said sits well with the large number of health-care workers in the riding.

What still lingers is the firefighter factor.

Traditionally, the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg have come out strong for the NDP, sending orange-shirted union members to press conferences and canvassing blitzes. Blady has benefited from that and even makes an appearance in a television commercial now airing that touts the breast cancer fundraising campaign by the firefighters union.

But de Groot's husband is also a firefighter, and her campaigns have always received help from individual firefighters.

The Liberal candidate is Syed Bokhari and the Green party candidate is Alanna Gray.

 

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Kirkfield Park

2007 NDP wargin of victory: 11% or 1,135 votes

 

Southdale

2007 NDP margin of victory: 11% or 1,279 votes

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2011 A5

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