Popularity vs. connections vs.determination
Final stretch for race to represent PCs in FortWhyte
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/02/2022 (358 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Obby Khan may be the star candidate vying to run for the Progressive Conservatives in the Fort Whyte byelection, but it’s not going to be an easy win for the former Winnipeg Blue Bomber.
Nipping at his heels is stalwart party supporter Melanie Maher, who has run twice in the area for the federal Conservatives. She has learned the ropes and earned support from established party insiders.
“Maher is a real candidate and I do know some party members are supporting her,” said University of Manitoba political studies professor Christopher Adams.
The Progressive Conservative party will announce its nominee Saturday. The candidate will try to retain the seat vacated by Brian Pallister in October after he resigned as premier in August. The date of the byelection has not been announced but must take place by March 29.
Fort Whyte optometrist Navroop Warraich is also seeking the PC nomination. The candidates delivered speeches online Thursday evening as voting got underway.
Khan, 41, was featured in some of Premier Heather Stefanson’s leadership campaign ads and is plugged in to powerful people, Adams said.
“He’s clearly the front-runner in many people’s eyes but Melanie Maher has had strong connections within the party,” said Adams. “She’s worked in a number of cabinet ministries as an executive assistant” and has high-level support. “I would think it’s not a slam dunk for Obby Khan,” he said.
Maher, 57, said she’s in it to win and has learned from two defeats in the federal riding of Winnipeg South.
“You always get some people who think, ‘She’s already lost twice — give up already’,” Maher said.
However, the married mother of two grown children said that experience is an advantage.
“The bottom line, why I’m doing this, is I do want to help people,” said Maher.
If she were an MLA, Maher said she would tell protesters outside the legislature that mask and vaccine mandates will be dropped when it’s safe.
“I believe we have had a good approach here and as things improve then the restrictions can lessen, but we want to make sure we can keep everyone safe,” Maher said.
The other candidate seeking the nomination said she, too, wants to win and serve.
“If I didn’t think I could, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Warraich, 38. The married mother of two young children said folks in Fort Whyte say they’re worried about the pandemic’s impact on health care and education, and want better communication from the government.
“It seems like there’s lots of frustrations… and I just thought I’d step forward and see if I can make a difference for Manitoba and Fort Whyte, bringing new ideas and a boost of energy, which is what I think I need right now,” said the first-generation Canadian who has extended family ties to the PC party.
Warraich would tell protesters that she respects their right to protest. “We also have to respect the health and well-being of the community and the decisions made by public health officials. And we also have to respect science,” she said.
Khan, who said he was too busy for an interview this week, declined to comment on the protests.
In an email, the restaurant owner said he expects the PC nomination will be “a tight race with two other high-quality candidates.”
Khan may be more popular with the public, but it’s party members who choose the candidate, Adams said.
Veteran political analyst Paul Thomas said the former football player might have an edge.
“Selling membership will be key and probably Khan has a wider circle of contacts that extends beyond the core activists in the PC party,” said Thomas, University of Manitoba political studies professor emeritus.
No matter who wins the PC nomination, they’ll be the front-runner in the byelection because Fort Whyte is a PC stronghold.
The upper-middle-class suburban constituency, which has a median household income of $117,535, fits the profile that supports the Progressive Conservatives, Adams said.
Recent polls, however, show PC popularity declining in Winnipeg while the NDP is surging. There’s no guarantee the party will retain the seat, said Adams.
“That person will be up against two fairly recognizable candidates that might be an option for middle-class voters in Fort Whyte,” Adams said.
The NDP candidate is Trudy Schroeder, a former Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra boss and Folk Festival organizer. The Liberal candidate is a former Winnipeg Blue Bomber and sheriff’s officer, Willard Reaves.
“The byelection isn’t a slam dunk for the PCs but they’re the likely winners of this riding,” Adams said. He’s buoyed that so many people in troubled times are taking part in the democratic system.
“These are credible candidates that are running for nomination in the PC party as well as credible candidates who’ve stepped forward and been nominated by the two main parties,” Adam said.
“It’s a good sign that people who have a well-established reputation are willing to step out of what they’re doing to run in politics and for their preferred party. For a political scientist, it’s a nice thing to see.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Friday, February 11, 2022 6:17 AM CST: Adds deck