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What Wednesday means for Oct. 4, 2011

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Folks in the provincial wing of the NDP are watching Wednesday’s civic election for more than just how well Judy Wasylycia-Leis does against Sam Katz.

They’re watching because it’s the first of a couple tests to see if there’s truly an appetite for change among voters and if the NDP machine can get their vote out to counter it.

That machine, once Wednesday is over, next has to swing its troops into the federal riding of Winnipeg North in the campaign up to the Nov. 29 by-election.

Their task is to get NDP candidate Kevin Chief elected in the seat once held by Wasylycia-Leis.

It’ll be a dogfight. Liberal candidate Kevin Lamoureux has been campaigning hard for months. The Conservative candidate is Julie Javier, but most expect it to be a tight two-way race between Chief and Lamoureux.

Once Winnipeg North is in the bag, the NDP gets a little break before it heads back to work on its toughest job--keeping the Selinger government in office and protecting its majority.

Recent polls suggest that won’t be easy. Hugh McFadyen’s Progressive Conservatives have been inching up in the polls over the past few months. The NDP will also be campaigning without Gary Doer, who in past elections was the face of the party and its success. (He still is the face of the party to some extent; just look at the NDP’s website.)

Leading up to the Oct. 4, 2011 voting day, one NDP operative told me a few days ago that it will be 1999 all over again.

That year the NDP and PCs were virtually neck-and-neck in the polls.

Healthcare was the major issue then and Doer’s promises of more nurses and shorter waiting times won the day after 10 years of Gary Filmon’s PCs.

This year it’s the economy and crime, two issues you’d think would give the edge to the PCs.

The great unknown is the so-called yearning for change among Manitobans.

No one will really know until Oct. 5 next year whether it’s real or not.

Still, Wednesday’s municipal vote and the Nov. 29 Winnipeg North by-election could offer a teeny-tiny clue.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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