Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The battle for River Heights

Gerrard's seat in danger; neck-and-neck with PCs

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Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard not only believes he can hang onto his River Heights seat, but that his party can pick up a few more when voters head to the polls in less than two weeks.

Gerrard has been campaigning almost daily in his south central riding in an effort to fight off Progressive Conservative challenger Marty Mortantz.

In River Heights, one of the more affluent ridings in the province, voters either go Red or Blue. Orange? not so much.

"I vote Conservative. My husband votes Liberal," said a woman on Cambridge Street as she walked her dogs. "That's the way it's always been."

Gerrard, who turns 64 just after the Oct. 4 election, has been MLA for the riding since 1999 when he beat PC incumbent Michael Radcliffe. In the two elections since then he's won easily.

This time it's different.

Gerrard has had to campaign extra hard, spending more time going door-to-door, than he's had to in the past. As a result he can't spend the time he wants campaigning with other candidates in other ridings.

"I've been spending a lot of time in River Heights, sure," Gerrard said Wednesday at a campaign event at Burrows candidate Twyla Motkaluk's office where he released his party's platform book. "My re-election chances are excellent, but I don't take anything for granted."

Morantz has been campaigning aggressively since he was nominated in March 2010. His signs are everywhere in River Heights. NDP candidate Dan Manning's signs? No so much.

The Liberals knew early on Gerrard was in trouble. When the campaign started more than two weeks ago, their own polling found their leader and Morantz in a statistical dead heat.

Since then, the Liberals say their polling shows Gerrard has pulled ahead of Morantz by eight points.

They admit it's a slim lead that can only be maintained if Gerrard keeps doing what he's been doing. The only other Liberal to hold the seat in the past 50 years was former Liberal Leader Sharon Carstairs. It's been coloured PC blue otherwise.

Morantz said Wednesday he plans to return River Heights to the blue team.

"I've got to tell you we're very optimistic we can win this riding," Morantz said, adding the results of the May federal election and Tory candidate Joyce Bateman's win over incumbent Liberal Anita Neville bodes well for his own chances.

"Right now, the people in River Heights are extremely engaged," he said. "They are really looking for new representation. I think when you have a situation in an election when the electorate is so engaged and there is a mood for change, you find that voter turnout is higher than you might see in other types of circumstances.

"We're going to do everything we can to get our vote out and we're not going to give up an inch before this election is over."

Gerrard also said that the outcome of the Oct. 4 election will give Manitobans their first minority government since 1988. Both the NDP and PCs are running neck and neck and either one could win, but without enough seats to form a majority.

"Right now, we feel that the campaign has built momentum for the Liberal Party to the point where we are in excellent shape to be the balance of power," Gerrard said. "We only need a few seats in order to be the balance of power."

He said that means the Liberals can push their own agenda as whoever is in power will want to curry their favour.

Gerrard has mused the provincial Liberals are in a position grab up to nine seats, but on Wednesday he toned it down, saying he didn't want to discuss a number.

It's no secret that besides getting Gerrard elected in River Heights, the Liberals also have hopes to pick up seats in Tyndall Park, Fort Rouge, St. Norbert, St. James, Burrows and Logan.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2011 A4

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