September 20, 2019

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Opinion

Reading the tea leaves

We have no idea how local ridings will vote and that’s how it should be

Volunteers with Doug Eyolfson, Liberal candidate in St. James, Charleswood load up signs into a vehicle outside his office Wednesday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Volunteers with Doug Eyolfson, Liberal candidate in St. James, Charleswood load up signs into a vehicle outside his office Wednesday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/10/2015 (1443 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

My friend’s parents’ neighbours, who usually vote Tory, now have a Liberal sign planted on their Charleswood lawn.

That, plus some other similarly anecdotal, over-analyzed tidbits, is pretty much the best intelligence we have on the state of races all over the city, including in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley. Even so, those scraps have been enough in recent days to stir up speculation Conservative MP Steven Fletcher’s riding might be in play, and we just hadn’t noticed.

Meanwhile, there are some bold predictions by national media Liberal candidate Rebecca Chartrand could pull off a surprise victory in Churchill-Kewatinook Aski, ending Niki Ashton’s seven-year run as the NDP MP for the north. And, largely because NDP MP Pat Martin can’t zip his lip, Winnipeg Centre seems like a much closer race than anyone imagined 10 weeks ago.

This is the part of a long federal election where we wait for some firm national shift in momentum and some clarity in local races. Instead, things are getting murkier. The truth is, we have no idea how most local races will play out. And that’s a good thing.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/10/2015 (1443 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

My friend’s parents’ neighbours, who usually vote Tory, now have a Liberal sign planted on their Charleswood lawn.

That, plus some other similarly anecdotal, over-analyzed tidbits, is pretty much the best intelligence we have on the state of races all over the city, including in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley. Even so, those scraps have been enough in recent days to stir up speculation Conservative MP Steven Fletcher’s riding might be in play, and we just hadn’t noticed.

Meanwhile, there are some bold predictions by national media Liberal candidate Rebecca Chartrand could pull off a surprise victory in Churchill-Kewatinook Aski, ending Niki Ashton’s seven-year run as the NDP MP for the north. And, largely because NDP MP Pat Martin can’t zip his lip, Winnipeg Centre seems like a much closer race than anyone imagined 10 weeks ago.

This is the part of a long federal election where we wait for some firm national shift in momentum and some clarity in local races. Instead, things are getting murkier. The truth is, we have no idea how most local races will play out. And that’s a good thing.

We can be reasonably sure several races are too close to call — Winnipeg South, Winnipeg South Centre, Elmwood-Transcona and, to a lesser degree, Kildonan-St. Paul and Saint Boniface-Saint Vital.

Is Fletcher in a real race?

Now, after Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley NDP candidate Stefan Jonasson was turfed for an old tweet comparing an ultra-orthodox Jewish group to the Taliban, there’s chatter about a wave of angry New Democrats migrating to the Liberal candidate, maybe just enough to give Fletcher a run for his money. Assiniboia MLA Jim Rondeau, tireless and personally popular in west Winnipeg, said he’s sitting out the NDP’s local campaign because the party squandered a chance to be the real alternative to the Tories in the riding. When a loyal foot soldier such as Rondeau says "meh," something might be up.

Meanwhile, local Liberals say candidate Doug Eyolfson, on leave from his job as an ER doctor for most of the year, is a tireless door-knocker. Last week, his campaign co-manager, Karen Taraska-Alcock, no political slouch herself, said she’s started sending out additional sign crews because the requests have piled up since the NDP campaign imploded.

But wait. It’s crazy to think Fletcher’s in trouble, isn’t it? He won all but two polls in 2011 and has increased his vote share in every one of his last three races. He’s become one of the more independent-minded and principled MPs in the province. But these are the what-ifs and is-it-possibles that come up in the last, confounding days of the campaign, here and across the country, as pundits try to make sense of complicated micro-math in diverse places such as Quebec and British Columbia to predict how the next Parliament will look. I can’t even figure out what might happen in my own neighbourhood of Winnipeg Centre, let alone elsewhere in the city.

(Over the weekend, a friend organized a bike tour of my core-area riding, essentially to count signs. It was great fun. Liberal Robert-Falcon Ouellette has nearly as many signs as Martin, even in Wolseley. But is that a helpful gauge of the race’s closeness?)

I subscribe to the oft-repeated and slightly cynical view voters tend toward the least exciting outcome, thwarting every reporter’s hope for election-night mayhem. Except, as Rondeau also pointed out this week, every election has a few surprises.

Who will get 'Bruinooged?'

I learned this the hard way in 2006, when I chose to spend election night in Selkirk-Interlake in case former NDP premier Ed Schreyer was able to defeat the Conservatives. Instead, the surprise story of election night was then-Treasury Board president Reg Alcock’s defeat in Winnipeg South by an insurgent campaign waged by a young Tory. Afterwards, in an "of course I was at Woodstock" kind of way, many local politicos claimed they knew all along Conservative Rod Bruinooge would win. But it was a shock to me, in the dimly lit back banquet room of the Selkirk Smitty’s, watching the returns on an old TV. The icy drive home to Winnipeg late that January night was humbling. Now, like Rondeau, every election I wonder who might get Bruinooged.

We have limited intelligence that illuminates what’s going on in the depths of local ridings. There is almost no riding-by-riding polling, so we rely on campaign sources who spin and observable trends such as the frequency of literature drops and the shuffling around of volunteers. We put all kinds of heft into anecdotes and symbols: Who is introducing the leader when he visits? Who is skipping debates? Where did visiting cabinet ministers knock on doors? We trade hunches and scenarios.

The truth is, we have no idea how Manitobans will vote Oct. 19. We can’t know — we shouldn’t know — the complicated minds of thousands of voters whose private moment behind the little cardboard screen has always been a mystery. We could all be at Smitty’s, missing the real story. That’s the fun of elections.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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