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Tory support in Kildonan-St. Paul is showing some cracks

Jim Bell, Conservative candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jim Bell, Conservative candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/10/2015 (1416 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Conservative candidate Jim Bell knocks on doors, especially friendly ones, he gets a lot of the following:

"Right, you're the Bomber guy."

"Oh yeah, I've seen your signs."

"Good luck, but I don't think you'll need it."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/10/2015 (1416 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Conservative candidate Jim Bell knocks on doors, especially friendly ones, he gets a lot of the following:

"Right, you're the Bomber guy."

"Oh yeah, I've seen your signs."

"Good luck, but I don't think you'll need it."

Except, for the first time in nearly a decade, a little luck might come in handy for the Tories in Kildonan-St. Paul, a riding retiring MP Joy Smith has held easily for years but now might be in play.

So far, the race has been a bit of a three-way sleeper, overshadowed by over-analyzed campaigns in several south Winnipeg ridings the Liberals hope to win from the Tories.

But Kildonan-St. Paul is also a microcosm of sorts for the wider campaign. It has a strong Liberal challenger who's been working for more than a year and is buoyed by local momentum. It has a grassroots NDP campaign jockeying alone in a province where the provincial party is profoundly unpopular and the federal party is largely hands-off. And it has a rookie Conservative candidate in Bell battling a national wave of anyone-but-Conservative (ABC) sentiment in order to hang on to a riding the Tories normally win without blinking.

Polling division results from 2011 in Kildonan-St. Paul

The map shows 2011 election results in Kildonan-St. Paul at the polling division level. Polls where the Conservatives came first are in blue, NDP in orange. Click on a polling division to see the margin of victory.

The black outline reflects the current boundaries of the riding.

You can see a map of election results for all of Winnipeg here: www.wfp.to/2011results

MaryAnn Mihychuk, Liberal candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

MaryAnn Mihychuk, Liberal candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul.

On one evening door-knocking in the conservative heartland of East St. Paul, Bell nabbed a half-dozen sign locations and even more check marks in the voter-identification database from committed voters. But he also encountered some voters in the affluent enclave who said they'd voted Tory in the past but were still pondering their options.

"I've had some difficulties with the way Harper has managed things," one voter on Omeniuk Drive told Bell. "But I'm not sure the other guys have the experience. I'm also not sure the NDP are close enough to the centre for me."

Bell, best known as the former president of the Winnipeg Football Club, said that's a sentiment he hears occasionally on the doorstep. But he said he can count on one hand the number of rabidly anti-Harper voters he's encountered during what he called the last few, very positive months.

A self-professed numbers guy who helped quarterback the construction of Investors Group Field, Bell said he's got no qualms about joining a caucus where even former top executives have seen their wings clipped by rigid discipline imposed from the Prime Minister's Office. He says he's a consensus-builder who will put the interests of Kildonan-St. Paul above all else. "I'll do whatever it takes to earn the trust of the riding," he said.

Liberal candidate MaryAnn Mihychuk, the former provincial NDP cabinet minister and geoscientist, said as most local Liberal candidates say of theirs, her riding is in the mood for change. "The people who are Conservative are not so sure about Harper anymore," she said in between doors on Wisteria Way in Riverbend one recent evening.

The Liberal campaign was strongest in 2004 and 2006 but virtually invisible in the last two elections, meaning Mihychuk had to build her campaign infrastructure largely from scratch. The Liberals didn't win a single poll in the 2011 election, so it's also tricky to identify Mihychuk's neighbourhoods of support. But she says she's been door-knocking for more than a year and considers the race one between her and Bell. A recent poll by Probe Research showed the Liberals leading the Conservatives by nine points among decided Winnipeg voters, though the Conservatives were slightly ahead among suburban voters in North Winnipeg.

NDP candidate Suzanne Hrynyk, a nurse, has some leftover name recognition in Riverbend and Garden City, where she ran for council a year ago and narrowly lost to incumbent Devi Sharma. But if polls and political punditry are to be believed, she's also running for a party with a brand that has been severely tarnished in Manitoba. But Hrynyk said she hasn't felt any federal blowback from voters angry and fed up with Premier Greg Selinger's provincial government.

"I haven't felt that at the doorstep," she said between doors last Saturday afternoon. "Voters here want an advocate for their own needs in the community. They'd like to see more of that representation."

Hrynyk said she has encountered a few ABCs who are struggling with how to vote in the diverse riding, where all three main parties are in the game. She directs those voters to strategicvoting.ca, which advises people to vote NDP to defeat the Conservatives. That advice appears to underplay the true strength of the Liberal campaign in the riding, relying instead on the NDP's status as (distant) runner-up in the last two elections.

The NDP's legendary on-the-ground machine has largely bypassed Manitoba, with only one real target riding — Elmwood-Transcona — earning attention among NDP activists. Hrynyk said her campaign is largely homegrown and grassroots, and isn't seeing an influx of party volunteers from elsewhere. But nor is she likely to blunt her own upstart efforts by sending workers to shore up campaigns in Winnipeg Centre or Elmwood-Transcona if things look dicey.

There are few riding-specific federal issues — though voters do kvetch a little about civic ones, such as North Kildonan's perennial traffic woes. And the three major campaigns appear fairly evenly matched, organizationally. They all have crews of committed canvassers. They've all done one, often two, significant literature drops throughout the entire riding.

Also running in the riding is Green party candidate Steven Stairs, an advocate for the visually impaired and for medical marijuana users, David Reimer of the Christian Heritage party and democratic reform activist Eduard Hiebert, who is running as an independent.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 7:20 AM CDT: Replaces photo, formats sidebar

10:04 AM: Adds map

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