The Liberals managed to snag seven of Winnipeg’s eight ridings in 2015 by riding the wave of Trudeaumania and enticing thousands of eager young voters to the ballot box. Now, the party faces the dismal prospect of being reduced to just two or three seats in the city after its leader has fallen from grace.
The clouds have descended on Justin Trudeau’s promise of "sunny ways" in just four years, thanks to the SNC-Lavalin affair and three incidents of "brownface" and blackface from his past that have mired his image. The Liberal party’s re-election fortunes in both the Prairies and across the country have been trounced.
Recent polling data show a 20-point drop in Liberal support across Manitoba since Trudeau’s historic win. The latest numbers from Probe Research indicate Tory support virtually mirrors Liberal support across the province.
"When it is such a close election and every seat is going to count, eyes across the country will certainly be on Winnipeg to see what the outcomes are, because it’s going to make the difference, similar to places in the Greater Toronto Area," said Curtis Brown, a principal at Probe Research in Winnipeg.
On Oct. 19, 2015, Trudeau made history when he led the Liberals to a major majority government with 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons. The 23rd prime minister, the eldest son of the late prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, rose from third place to win the 2015 race.
His personal brand has taken hits after he reneged on major promises — including electoral reform — and his fight with former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould over prosecuting SNC-Lavalin.
"I don’t know if there was anything about Trudeau that was specifically appealing to Manitobans in the last election — he was just appealing in general. He was fresh and interesting and dynamic in a race in which... there was this (Stephen) Harper fatigue," said Royce Koop, head of the department of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
Koop said such appeal is difficult to maintain, which is why he projects a return to the status quo in Winnipeg: patches of red, blue and orange across the city.
"You could have four to five seats in Winnipeg alone that the Liberals lose. That’s not a small amount," he said.
The 2015 Liberal surge resulted in landslide wins across Winnipeg (the party received 53 per cent of the city’s total votes), even in ridings that were projected to be battlegrounds. The party also claimed seats it did not appear to be competitive in, Brown said. He listed Kildonan-St. Paul, Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley and Winnipeg Centre.
The firm last polled Manitobans on their voting intentions in mid-September. Among decided and leaning voters, the Liberals were leading at 33 per cent, with the Tories one point behind. The NDP, Greens and People’s Party trailed behind at 24, nine and two per cent, respectively.
No seat is safe, but analysts predict Winnipeg North, Saint Boniface-Saint Vital and Winnipeg South Centre will likely remain red. "It’s going to be a very bad night for the Liberals if those are even close," Brown said.
Liberal incumbents Kevin Lamoureux, Dan Vandal and Jim Carr each have name recognition and experience. If any Tory challenger could unseat a well-known Liberal, Koop said he would place bets on Joyce Bateman in Winnipeg South Centre, who lost her seat to Carr in 2015.
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Meanwhile, both he and Brown said they will be watching the race between the NDP and Tories in Elmwood-Transcona.
Anything could happen tonight, but Cristina Aliu, vice-chairwoman of the Young Liberals of Canada chapter in Manitoba, still has hope for the party’s success in Winnipeg. "We need another four years," she said.
Mobilizing the youth vote again is critical for the party as the demographic played a significant role in electing Trudeau the first time around.
"Conservative voters tend to be much more committed voters. They tend to be older, they tend to be more affluent, they tend to be more likely to turnout," Brown said. "The other parties tend to get more support from millennials, from people who are not super-consistent voters, so that can also have a bit of an impact."
Maggie Macintosh Reporter
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.