Late-year byelection leaves candidates out in the cold
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Logan Oxenham has been knocking on doors for so long in Kirkfield Park he has watched the seasons change.
Oxenham, who was chosen as the NDP candidate months ago, has been walking from home to home since September.
“It might be cold outside, but it is definitely warm on the doorstep,” he said Friday, shortly after putting a sign on a resident’s lawn.
“We were out (Thursday) night, the snow was coming down, but this nice couple said come inside. They said they liked how hard I was working: it shows you care.”
That’s what happens when a provincial government, down in the polls for two years, decides to hold a byelection late in the calendar year and at the last possible minute allowed by election rules.
The governing Tories called the byelection in Kirkfield Park this week. It became vacant when former finance minister Scott Fielding resigned in June. The Dec. 13 vote will be held on the final day allowed by provincial law. A byelection must be held within 180 days of a seat becoming vacant.
Advance polling runs from Dec. 3 to 10.
Paul Thomas, University of Manitoba political studies professor emeritus, said he doesn’t know if it is the latest byelection ever held in a year, but he said it’s safe to say holding one in mid-December “is somewhat unusual.
“It does make for difficult conditions and it shows on a doorstep. It’s hard to talk to people when it is cold. Most people would just like to close the door.”
Thomas said the weather could affect turnout.
“If it is a raging snowstorm, the people who have left voting to the last minute will say I’m not going out in 30 below, especially when they will be in for less than a year with a general election next year.”
Beyond the cold, Thomas said it is also difficult when the Progressive Conservative candidate – former city councillor Kevin Klein — has just gone through a months-long mayoral election campaign. Klein finished third behind Mayor Scott Gillingham and former mayor Glen Murray.
“The people in the Klein camp have just worked and donated for his bid to be mayor. Now he is going back to them. We used to have more loyalties to parties, but now we’re fickle.”
Thomas also said voters might not care much about the outcome because the new MLA will be in office for less than a year before the scheduled election date of October 3, 2023.
“But party activists will look at it as a litmus test,” he said.
Liberal candidate Rhonda Nichol’s job is entirely indoors. She’s a clinical trials and research nurse at CancerCare Manitoba. Before that, she spent more than 29 years as a registered nurse at Grace Hospital.
But Nichol is no stranger to the outdoors.
“It was pretty cold (Thursday) night with the wind,” she said. “I was trying not to have the doors open too much because I don’t want anybody getting cold.
“But I grew up in a family where we were outside all the time. We hauled wood. I helped clear my parents’ property. I grew up ice fishing. I’d rather be outside than inside.”
Nichol said she dresses in layers for the weather — Friday night she was also planning to take two tuques and two sets of mitts.
“I love going door to door,” she said. “I meet new people all the time, listen to their concerns, and follow up on them. It’s actually like what I do as a nurse.”
As for Klein, he admits the weather will be a factor in the byelection.
“It’s a real issue,” he said. “It’s why we are out seven days a week. We want to talk to people. We want to call them. We’ll try to make it easier for people to talk with me.”
Klein said between the byelection and mayoral battle, he has been in election mode for months, but he likes the voter contact this time around.
“This is more fun for me and engaging, believe it or not,” he said. “The last one was a lot of town halls, but this time I’m out in the community. I’m able to have conversations. You get a better feel for what people are concerned about.”
Dennis Bayomi, a semi-retired information technology professional, is the Green party candidate. He ran for the party in the consituency in 2019.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.