Tough hill to climb NDP makes a push to win back Winnipeg North from Liberal Lamoureux
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/08/2021 (398 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kevin Lamoureux keeps a rapid pace. It’s the 13th time he’s run for public office, and the incumbent Liberal MP zips between houses in the Inkster Gardens neighbourhood, making a quick pitch.
“I’m just out to ask for your support; that would be very nice. If something comes up you’d like to talk about, my number’s here, so give us a call,” he says, thrusting a pamphlet into an older woman’s hands.
“Otherwise, thanks for your support. Have a nice evening,” he says, darting down the stairs and on toward the next house.
A crew of four campaigners swarm down the street, knocking doors to talk about the federal election. Along a row of townhouses, his daughter Cindy swings around the edge of a banister, to save the trip down the driveway.
A woman in a salwar dress opens the door, and Cindy gives an opening pitch, while her father’s campaign manager makes notes on his clipboard and calls Lamoureux over.
Lamoureux hopscotches over the corner of a lawn, jumps up the stairs, clasps his hands and says “sat shri akal,” or hello in Punjabi, slightly panting.
“I know you are always there for us,” the woman replies. A campaign volunteer in a turban then explains Lamoureux’s pitch in Punjabi.
Lamoureux has held the Winnipeg North riding since 2010, claiming the riding for the Liberals after 13 years of NDP representation under Judy Wasylycia-Leis.
The New Democratic Party, and its predecessors, has held the area for most of the past century, and it’s pushing hard to get it back.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here in Winnipeg North to tackle some deep issues that affect us here, but also (to) reflect the struggles of Indigenous people and immigrants Canada-wide,” said NDP candidate Melissa Chung-Mowat.
On a smoky Friday afternoon, Chung-Mowat knocks at a semi-detached house in the Maples, on a door that has had its handle removed.
A man wearing a Sikh kara bangle answers the door, looking skeptical.
“I’m the NDP candidate, and here to ask for your support,” says Chung-Mowat, who often canvasses with volunteers but also hits the hustings solo.
“We need to fight for housing, and fight for better health care. Are there any issue or concerns you have in this election?”
The man nods, pursing his lips and asking when the election takes place. But his face lights up when she mentions NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
“I will support you,” he says, all smiles.
A few doors down, a jovial man with a Filipino accent opens the door with one of Chung-Mowat’s flyers taped to his T-shirt.
“I saw you coming,” he announces. “We need a change here.”
Last week, Singh visited Winnipeg North for his first Manitoba stop in the campaign. The NDP hold three other ridings in the province.
NDP strategists see winning Winnipeg North as key to unseating the Liberals as the party people associate with social programs, particularly after the Trudeau government became the face of COVID-19 supports for economically stressed Canadians.
The riding includes the North End, with a large Indigenous population, blocks of overcrowded apartments and some of the poorest postal codes in Canada.
“There’s a big opportunity here to send a strong message about what is really important in the community, and what people are struggling with,” Chung-Mowat says in her campaign office, with signs from NDP and CCF predecessors dating back to the 1950s.
Chung-Mowat was mostly raised by her mother in the city and in Portage la Prairie, at times having inadequate food and housing, and struggling with mental health.
She went on to earn a master’s degree in immigration studies, and has worked a decade in Winnipeg anti-poverty organizations.
“Folks who are very low-income (and) living in the North End — they have to choose between food and rent and medication. And you wouldn’t necessarily know the struggles, unless you’re committed to working across the whole riding,” she said.
Both candidates say the same issues resonate across the riding, but manifest differently on either side of McPhillips Street.
West of that line sit upwardly mobile, largely immigrant neighbourhoods, where housing is an issue of bidding wars and house sizes for multi-generational families. On the east side, voters talk about housing as a matter of evictions and unsafe rooming houses.
Chung-Mowat’s campaign is particularly focused on the east side, where she says many voters are holding down multiple jobs. The pandemic makes it particularly hard to get those people registered to vote, and down to a polling station, or to have them request a special ballot and submit it on time.
At the doors, she often names the local NDP MLAs who represent parts of the riding at the provincial level. She argues people like Diljeet Brar and Nahanni Fontaine reflect local concerns, and the diversity of the community.
She wagers that appealing to the grassroots will help her overcome Lamoureux’s charm offensive.
The incumbent MP is known for his weekly availability at the McDonald’s on Keewatin St., where he’s met constituents since 1989, including during his term as an MLA.
“It’s not enough to meet people at McDonald’s every weekend,” Chung-Mowat told reporters last week.
Chung-Mowat, who is Chinese and Métis, says the NDP is on a years-long quest to eventually win back the riding, by involving more and more people who have felt overlooked by federal politics.
“Regardless of what happens in this election, we’re setting up many young people in the community, to continue to build fundamental, systemic change.”
Back in Inkster Gardens, Lamoureux’s pamphlets paint the Liberals are the ones to bring about big change. He cites pharmacare, despite the Trudeau government barely making progress on that front.
He hits the block in jeans and a ratted baseball cap with a cartoony Parliament Hill.
At a basketball court, a group of five teenagers in a largely Filipino subdivision ask him to shoot a basket from the free-throw line. Lamoureux neatly gets the ball through the net. As the teens cheer, he makes another the pitch.
“Now can you do me a favour? Tell your parents to vote for me,” he says earnestly.
Lamoureux wagers that voters who see someone hustling for votes will be inclined to think of that candidate as hard-working — particularly in bad weather. “You get the pity vote in the rain,” he laughs.
“I run to the door on purpose; I want people to know that I enjoy this, I have energy and I want their support.”
Political scientist Paul Thomas says Lamoureux’s folksy veneer belies a shrewd campaigner, making Chung-Mowat the underdog.
“He’s a naturally gifted politician, in the sense of doing retail politics on the street, dealing with people and flattering them — and cajoling them and convincing them he’s got their back,” said Thomas, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba.
“He’s shrewder than a lot of people give him credit for.”
To the end, Lamoureux says he can latch onto a national issue that resonates with his constituents. He links the federal NDP with their provincial cousins’ 17-year reign in Manitoba, which ended with rock-bottom unpopularity.
This past week, he said voters stopped asking him about why the Liberals called an election during a pandemic. And Singh said he would not rule out supporting any party, which a gleeful Lamoureux painted as a big mistake.
“I will likely play up as long as I can, the fact that the NDP are potentially going to support a minority Conservative government if they have the opportunity,” he said.
The Tories are running a candidate, Anas Kassem, but they last held the riding in 1962.
Lamoureux says voters in the riding are spooked by the idea of any Conservative government. He tries to convince them that anything short of a Liberal majority would also be terrible.
“We’ve got to make sure that we don’t see minority situations, or we could lose a lot of things, like a $10 a day daycare program, or health care and environmental policies,” he said.
Chung-Mowat argues her community expected more on all those fronts when they opted for a Trudeau government.
“I think it’s the first time in a very long time in our community that people feel empowered, that their votes can make a difference.”
Updated on Monday, August 30, 2021 9:55 AM CDT: Adds photos
Updated on Monday, August 30, 2021 5:47 PM CDT: Adds layout for ATF