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Neville, Harvard endorse NDP's Oswald in Seine River

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With the Liberal campaign floundering, a pair of party stalwarts have jumped ship to support the NDP’s Theresa Oswald in Seine River.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard issued a statement this morning saying he was "shocked" that any Liberal would endorse the province’s health minister. He was referring to a letter written by former Liberal MPs Anita Neville and John Harvard endorsing Oswald in her battle against Conservative Gord Steeves in the south Winnipeg constituency.

"Let me say as a former pediatrician, that Theresa Oswald’s performance as health minister has been poor," Gerrard said. "Her handling of the death of Brian Sinclair in a hospital ER was poor. Her handling of allegations of abuse and neglect of seniors has been poor. And I am on the record in the legislature of holding Theresa Oswald accountable for her ongoing poor performance."

Gerrard said he stands by his candidate in Seine River, Troy Osiname. "I’ve known Troy for some time, he is a talented and intelligent community leader who would offer the strongest voice for the residents of that constituency," Gerrard said.

Reached in Toronto, Neville said her support was for Oswald personally — not a blanket endorsement for the NDP.

"I did not make this decision lightly," she said. "I’m a strong, firm, committed Liberal who is active in Liberal campaigns and supporting other Liberal candidates."

Neville said she has enormous respect for Oswald. "My support is for Theresa Oswald as a person who can both serve her constituency but also serve, in the broader sense, the province and the country."

Neville said she was approached by an "independent" person — not directly by Oswald or her campaign — for her support. "I thought, when approached, that it was really important not to lose her as a member of the provincial legislature," she said.

At a hastily arranged press conference outside a coffee shop on St. Mary's Road this morning, Gerrard would not say whether he felt personally betrayed by the letter supporting Oswald.

Harvard also endorsed Kirkfield Park NDP MLA Sharon Blady.

"I believe that on election day we're going to have the kind of response that we need, that we're going to elect a lot of Liberals," Gerrard told reporters.

"I'm disappointed in any endorsement of Theresa Oswald at a time when we have such an incredible health care plan for this province," Gerrard said.

An NDP spokeswoman said this morning the party was distributing the letters to constituents who had identified they intended to vote Liberal.

A Winnipeg Free Press/Probe Research Poll released today shows Liberal support has sunk to seven per cent, a little over half of what it was in the 2007 provincial election. The collapse of Liberal support has helped the NDP capture the lead over the Progressive Conservatives heading into Tuesday’s election.

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Updated on Friday, September 30, 2011 at 12:10 PM CDT: Adds details from Gerrard's news conference

12:19 PM: Adds photo of Gerrard

2:18 PM: Adds reaction from Neville

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