A sleepy summer byelection could become an exciting three-way heat, as candidates vie to replace a former premier in the Manitoba legislature, according to one life-long St. Boniface resident and political scientist.
Raymond Hébert, a political science professor emeritus at Université de Saint-Boniface, said the campaign is already off to a competitive start, after the writ dropped last week.
He’s met two of the four French-speaking candidates, Françoise Therrien Vrignon from the Green party and Blandine Tona from the NDP, on his doorstep, and seen a Liberal MLA, Jon Gerrard, out door-knocking for party leader Dougald Lamont. Mamadou Ka is also running in St. Boniface under the Progressive Conservative banner.
"This time around, I think for all four parties actually, there are, as we say in French, les enjeux — the stakes," Hébert said. "For the Liberals, it’s a matter of getting Lamont elected, of course, but mainly getting that fourth seat in the legislature to allow them to (gain official party status). He probably is the one with the most to lose."
The responses below are reprinted in full, with no edits.
1. What's your pitch to St. Boniface voters? As an active resident of St. Boniface for over 30 years, my goal is to be a strong voice in the legislature, for both the local community and the distinct francophone presence within. I wish to be a voice that stands on principles, and is active in the community, listening to constituents. If elected, my unique position as a strong francophone representative in the government will allow me to bring local issues to the forefront with a different perspective. This will result in a brighter future for both St. Boniface and for the province as a whole.
2. What experience would you bring to the job? I view myself as an educator, first and foremost. As a professor as the Université de Saint-Boniface, my main mission is to pass on valuable skills and knowledge to the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. I plan to bring this same level of commitment to the future into the legislature, if elected, focusing on providing a bright and stable future for all Manitobans. In addition, my track record as a proven community leader proves that I am the driven and compassionate leader St. Boniface needs.
3. What's your greatest strength? And your biggest flaw? My greatest strength would be my history as a proven community leader. Having served in positions such as commissioner of the Manitoba Police Commission (a position which I still hold), board member of St. Boniface Hospital, and as chairman of the Manitoba Ethnocultural Advisory and Advocacy Council, I have proven myself to be a stable and effective voice for the community. My biggest flaw would be the high expectations I place upon myself in all aspects of my life. No matter what goal I am trying to achieve, I will not stop until I feel that I have truly put my heart and soul into it. If elected, I will continue to be an honest, compassionate leader for all Manitobans.
1. What's your pitch to St. Boniface voters? As leader of the Manitoba Liberals in the legislature, we can represent the voters and values of St. Boniface with the strongest possible voice, from the front bench. I can challenge Premier Brian Pallister every single day in question period and in the media, in French and in English. This is also an opportunity for the people of St. Boniface to change politics in Manitoba, starting now. For a long time, Manitobans have been told they just have two choices to vote for, and they have to hold their nose for one to keep the other one out. We want to make sure that Manitobans have an option -- that they can feel good about voting for a Manitoba Liberal party that is progressive, committed to change for the better, and to governing for everyone, not just a few. That’s what "Our New Way" is about.
2. What experience would you bring to the job? As leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party since October 2017, I have worked with the three Manitoba Liberal MLAs in the legislature on legislation, strategy, policy, and communications. I am fluently bilingual and have helped elect and advise politicians at all three levels of government for more than 20 years. I also have real-world experience in the private sector, as well as the public sector. Working in communications, I had clients in business, big and small, as well as government and politics, cultural and charitable sectors. This all brought me face-to-face with the real challenges people face, from business startups and people struggling to make ends meet all across Manitoba. It provided a "grunt’s-eye-view" of how government and business work. It also made it crystal clear that politicians and experts have no clue about the actual effects of their ideas. That is why I am interested in real problems, and real solutions, because for too many people, things aren’t working.
3. What's your greatest strength? And your biggest flaw? My greatest strength is that I can solve tough problems. It’s not enough to criticize -- you have to have an idea for how to make things better. Working with people to come up with new ideas that work. My biggest flaw is that, of my many flaws, I am unable to pick just one. A fondness for junk food and dad jokes are up there: whenever I see a horse, I have to ask it: “Why the long face?"
1. What's your pitch to St. Boniface voters? St. Boniface voters have the opportunity to change the game for all Manitobans in this byelection. We are at a crucial time in history, where we can either choose to continue doing politics the way we've always done them, or to embrace change and plan for a better future, ecologically and economically. St. Boniface brought health care, education, and social services to this province, as well as negotiating the entry of Manitoba into Confederation on our terms. We can continue our legacy of being positive and progressive leaders for our community and our province by electing the first Green MLA. My focus is on adequately representing the voices and values of St. Boniface residents while addressing the roots of our problems. At the end of this byelection, Brian Pallister will still be premier and Wab Kinew will still be leader of the Opposition. Vote for who you actually want to see in government.
2. What experience would you bring to the job? I bring considerable experience in the non-profit sector, having worked in economic development, small and medium enterprises, arts and culture, tourism, as well as having been on a number of boards and associations in St. Boniface. I've also held a non-partisan position in former premier Greg Selinger's constituency office. Working with people of St. Boniface, and playing a role in facilitating their wishes for the future, has always been a strong motivation for me.
3. What's your greatest strength? And your biggest flaw? My biggest strength is my people skills, and the people supporting me. I take pride in having a network of strong relationships based on mutual respect and collaboration. I have always worked with people of all backgrounds and political affiliations, and believe our diversity is what makes us interesting and adaptable to change. My biggest flaw is my empathy. I want to help everyone. I recognize that if I'm elected, I'll be expected to respond to the needs of all residents in St. Boniface, and believe me, the list of needs is endless.
1. What's your pitch to St. Boniface voters? The NDP and St. Boniface have a long-standing, close relationship. Under the NDP, local health-care centres were opened, Info Santé was created, and French-language rights were strengthened with advocacy from the community and a strong NDP government. My hope is to strengthen that relationship, and to make sure that our community builds on the ground it gained under the NDP. I live in the riding and, along with my colleagues in the official Opposition, will be the strongest voice for St. Boniface in the legislature. I need the support of St. Boniface constituents to make sure our voices are heard and to fight against the PC cuts to health, education, and our culture.
2. What experience would you bring to the job? I am an active member of St. Boniface in a variety of cultural, social and progressive organizations that focus on the advancement of equality, social justice and women's empowerment. Much of my experience in advocacy has profoundly shaped and informed my life's goals. I have master's degrees in public law and political science, and am a PhD candidate in peace and conflict studies. My work and volunteerism is rooted in providing a voice for those in need and the marginalized. I am a health-care professional, providing front-line health services in St. Boniface. My experience includes vice-president of Société de la francophonie manitobaine, program co-ordinator at the Sexuality Education Resource Centre, board chairwoman of Alliance des femmes de la francophonie canadienne, board member of Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations and African Communities of Manitoba, and volunteer co-ordinator at Accueil francophone. I was nominated as one of CBC/Radio-Canada's 10 Manitoba Future Leaders, in 2017.
3. What's your greatest strength? And your biggest flaw? My biggest strength is my capacity to connect with people. Either in my work in health care, or in community organizations, I appreciate people taking the time to share their concerns and hopes with me. My biggest flaw is that I don't hold back. I have years of board and community engagement experience and am passionate fighting for my beliefs and the cause of social justice. I look forward to standing up for St. Boniface inside the legislature.
Former NDP leader and St. Boniface MLA Greg Selinger stepped down in March, after allegations arose about one of his former cabinet ministers, Stan Struthers, inappropriately touching women. Selinger was pressured to resign by current NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
Tona’s campaign machine seems to be looming largest, with many lawn signs peppered around the riding and door-knockers out in full force, Hébert said.
If the NDP were to lose its longtime seat in St. Boniface — which Selinger held since 1999, and which has historically leaned left since 1932 — the party would need to do some soul-searching, said Shannon Sampert, associate professor in political science at the University of Winnipeg.
"It basically is up to (the NDP) to lose it, and if they do lose it, then some questions have to be asked. If (Kinew) can’t win this one, then there has to be some questions of the leadership and of the party’s ability to actually move forward," she said.
Sampert said the race will be a tough slog for all the parties, since byelections historically have lower voter turnouts than general elections. The last Manitoba byelection — in Point Douglas in June 2017 — had about 31 per cent voter turnout, compared with 43 per cent turnout in the 2016 election.
Attracting voter interest during the summer, while many folks are out of town, is also notoriously difficult.
"To get anybody really excited about a byelection in June and July in Winnipeg, Manitoba — wow. I’ve got to hand it to whatever party can pull off this win and get people actually coming to the polls," Sampert said.
Smaller provincial parties such the Liberals and the Greens may have a better shot in a byelection than they do during a general election, Sampert and Hébert agreed, since the vote isn’t so much about party leadership or who may wind up as premier.
Voters can elect a representative based on personality and not party affiliation, leaving room for people who are "tempted to vote Green because they can vote with their hearts, for once," Hébert said.
Still, he doesn’t believe the Greens will win their first legislative seat in Manitoba, noting, "It really is a three-way race, with an outside chance for the Green party."
It wouldn’t be entirely shocking if the PCs stole the St. Boniface seat either, Hébert said, since locals have historically voted for candidates in positions of power (namely Selinger and former cabinet minister Larry Desjardins, who served the area from 1959 to 1988).
Currently, the Manitoba legislature has 39 Progressive Conservative members, 12 New Democrats, three Liberals, two independents, and one vacancy. St. Boniface voters go to the polls July 17.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.