Liberals seek game-changing win in Fort Whyte byelection

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The Manitoba Liberals are hoping to take a Tory stronghold with a Hail Mary pass that could be a provincial political game changer.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/01/2022 (314 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Manitoba Liberals are hoping to take a Tory stronghold with a Hail Mary pass that could be a provincial political game changer.

With just three elected members of the legislative assembly — four are needed for official party status and the funding and legitimacy that come with it — the Liberals are betting former Winnipeg Blue Bombers player Willard Reaves will score a big win for them in the upcoming Fort Whyte byelection.

The former CFL running back says he’s in it to win it, and has masked up and been campaigning hard since his nomination after former Tory premier Brian Pallister vacated the southwest Winnipeg seat Oct. 4.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The Manitoba Liberals are betting former Winnipeg Blue Bombers player Willard Reaves will score a big win for them in the upcoming Fort Whyte byelection.

“This is how I used to play football,” Reaves said Friday. “I have to be the best at what I do and work at it, right? I’m not going to just jump into something half-assed.

“My passion is to do what the job is asking, really: represent the people.”

Reaves, 62, who scored two touchdowns for Winnipeg in its 1984 Grey Cup win, said he admires longtime River Heights Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard as a politician and a role model.

“If you want to know how to fix a system, get out from behind your desk, get your ass out the door and go meet the people. They’ll tell you what to do,” said Reaves, a longtime area resident who’s semi-retired and works part time at Costco.

“We need somebody who’s going to listen. When Pallister came into this riding (in 2012), he just grabbed a seat. He didn’t meet these people.”

While he waits for the byelection date to be set, Reaves said he has been door-knocking and hearing residents express concerns about health care, education and reconciliation.

With so much on the line, the Manitoba Liberals have already conducted a survey in the electoral district held by the Tories since its creation in 1999.

“We thought it was worth getting an independent poll to find out what we were looking at,” said Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.

Toronto-based Main Street Research in Toronto conducted the poll Jan. 14-17.

It said Reaves received 30 per cent of voter support, compared to 26 per cent for the PCs (former Blue Bombers lineman Obby Khan is vying for that nomination). Nearly 18 per cent said they’d vote for NDP candidate Trudy Schroeder (former Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra executive director) — with a whopping 20 per cent undecided.

The sample size was just 182 eligible voters, with a plus or minus 7.2 per cent margin of error.

“It confirms what we are already hearing at the doors and what we’re getting from phone calling — there is a lot of support there and it’s winnable,” said Lamont. 

With the stakes in this byelection so high for the Liberals, it makes sense for them to go all in, a provincial political expert says.

“I’m not surprised that they would be commissioning a poll and really putting a lot of time and energy into that because it would be a huge win for them,” said Brandon University political studies Prof. Kelly Saunders.

“Any time a party can pick up an extra seat, it’s always a good thing. But to go from where they are now to official party status is really significant,” Saunders said.

“It makes life so much easier for the party and the sitting MLAs in terms of access to resources and funding and the ability to hire staff but also their presence in the legislature.”

With fewer than four elected members, the Liberals aren’t recognized as a political party and have no standing in the house. They need unanimous consent from all the MLAs to stand up and speak in the legislature to a ministerial statement or a bill that’s being introduced.

“If one MLA says, ‘No, I don’t want to give up some of my time,’ then they have nothing in terms of their ability to represent the people that voted for them,” Saunders said.

Other provinces have lower thresholds for party status. Saskatchewan, for example, only requires two elected members.

The Liberals typically receive around 15 per cent of the popular vote in provincial elections, representing a sizeable portion of the electorate, Saunders said.

“That’s what the federal NDP get in every election, so when you think about it, that’s a significant amount of votes,” she said. “And yet, (the Liberals are) still struggling to get a voice and a foothold. It is a little bit problematic, from a from a democratic point of view.”

A democracy should mean there’s more choice and more diverse views represented, she said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

History

Updated on Saturday, January 22, 2022 1:01 AM CST: Changes members statements to ministerial statement.

Updated on Saturday, January 22, 2022 11:09 AM CST: Removes reference to unseating former NDP premier Greg Selinger.

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