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NDP's dynasty in northern Manitoba continues with Ashton win

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski incumbent NDP candidate Niki Ashton,

BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN FILES

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski incumbent NDP candidate Niki Ashton,

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/10/2015 (1336 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NDP MP Niki Ashton swept easily to victory in 2011 but landing the seat this time proved tougher and the race a lot tighter.

The riding was the last one with the fewest polls counted. Ashton held on to a consistent lead, ahead of Liberal challenger Rebecca Chartrand but the margin bounced back and forth, seesawing by 400 votes at one point, 800 at another.

Close to midnight, with 94 of the riding’s 157 polls, Ashton was ahead by 1,200 votes.

Rising indigenous leader Rebecca Chartrand sought to replace one of the province’s most dynamic MPs and score a rare Liberal win up north in the sprawling northern riding of Churchill-Keewatinook-Aski.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/10/2015 (1336 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NDP MP Niki Ashton swept easily to victory in 2011 but landing the seat this time proved tougher and the race a lot tighter.

The riding was the last one with the fewest polls counted. Ashton held on to a consistent lead, ahead of Liberal challenger Rebecca Chartrand but the margin bounced back and forth, seesawing by 400 votes at one point, 800 at another.

Close to midnight, with 94 of the riding’s 157 polls, Ashton was ahead by 1,200 votes.

Rising indigenous leader Rebecca Chartrand sought to replace one of the province’s most dynamic MPs and score a rare Liberal win up north in the sprawling northern riding of Churchill-Keewatinook-Aski.

The contest was fierce and both candidates expected to be waiting late into the night for the final results.

"I think we’re going to see huge numbers compared to the last election, with the urban vote coming in and the First Nations," Chartrand said by phone from her campaign headquarters in Thompson.

She said she learned one lesson, no matter who took the seat. "I feel good either way. This is a victory in a lot of different ways You take a look at this riding and it’s 75 per cent indigenous vote. In future elections, any party is going to have to work a lot harder to get that vote," Chartrand said.

At Ashton’s campaign, the candidate delayed comment late into the night as she awaited results.

Ashton and Chartrand both worked social media hard to rally first time voters in Churchill, a movement that swept the rest of the country, as well.

One indigenous organizer in New Brunswick wittily dubbed first time voters "virgin voters" and posted notes on Facebook about their excitement. Manitoba captured the same mood on First Nations here.

"I drove some people to the polls and they were excited to vote," said Rhonda Head, who works with Kevin Hart, the regional vice chief for Manitoba with the Assembly of First Nations. "The Rock the Vote movement worked."

Polls reported lineups for the first time ever.

More than 2,100 voted at Kikiwak Inn, a polling station at the Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas, three times the number in 2011.

First Nation ridings in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario reported running low or even running out of ballots.

Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Split Lake sought and got permission from Elections Canada to photocopy their remaining ballots to stretch them out, Ashton said early in the evening. "We reported it and they acted very quickly. Elections Canada made an allowance to photo copy the ballots," she said.

Chartrand reported a power outage in Tadoule Lake, Manitoba’s northern-most community, which was expected to delay final tallies.

In Winnipeg, there were anecdotal reports of delays and voter frustration and voters denied a vote among Lake St. Martin evacuees from the 2011 flood.

Historically, First Nations have registered low voter turnouts, in the 30 per cent range, but pent up political frustration with the Conservative government spilled out into a national First Nation movement called Rock the Vote. It got voters to the polls in what was expected to be a record turnout.

In mainstream media, Chartrand raised her political profile along with the riding’s to a national stage. That gave Churchill a spotlight its economic woes, its geographic remoteness, it’s medical and economic refugees in Winnipeg, not to mention high profile aboriginal concerns everywhere for issues such as a national inquiry into Canada’s 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women.

Maclean’s magazine summed up one feature with the headline "red hot election race in an ice-cold riding."

As a measure of the political heat in Churchill, both NDP and Liberal candidates traded political barbs: Chartrand said the Ashtons have held a monopoly on power for too long. Ashton said Chartrand had few roots in the northern riding.

On issues, the two agreed on the problems facing the riding.

The survival of the northern railway and the Port of Churchill, struggling since the Canadian Wheat Board was dismantled, is a perennial issue. A roller-coaster of job losses and relocations have struck Flin Flon, Thompson and other resource towns thanks to slumping metals prices. In its 40-plus First Nations, Churchill-Keewatinook Aski has a catastrophic backlog of overcrowded, substandard housing. Federal funding for education and child welfare has never matched what children receive off-reserve. Most recently, northern chiefs have expressed concern about the erosion of the band constable program.

As much as the race is between front-runners Ashton and Chartrand, there were three other party candidates in the race.

The Conservatives nominated Kyle Mirecki, a young Winnipegger and party loyalist who has held various positions within the Conservative government. He held on to third place in polls from the beginning.

Mirecki had worked in the Prime Minister’s Office as an issues manager and as an executive assistant to the deputy chief of staff, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Libertarian nominated Zachary Linnick, a Winnipeg federal bureaucrat who was born and raised in Flin Flon.

Green Party candidate August (Gus) Hastmann was originally from Selkirk but after spending the last 15 years teaching in northern Manitoba, said he’s committed to preserving the boreal forest and raising living conditions. "I want to start a conversation. I’m in this for the long haul and I’ll answer any question before, during or after the election," he said by phone.

The teacher was sanguine about his political odds.

Hastmann said the race was always between the NDP and the Liberals. "A lot of (First Nations) have put a lot of time and energy into getting people registered. It (the riding) was a wild card. But that makes it wilder," he said.

Churchill has been represented by a New Democrat in Parliament for most of the last 40 years. The last time the Liberals won it was thanks largely to divided NDP loyalties, when the area’s NDP MP Bev Desjarlais split from her party over gay marriage and ran as an Independent, siphoning off votes from Ashton in her first bid for office. Liberal Tina Keeper won that election in 2006 and served two years in Parliament before the minority government fell.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

 

Alexandra Paul

Alexandra Paul
Reporter

Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.

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History

Updated on Monday, October 19, 2015 at 10:41 PM CDT: Updates headline

11:17 PM: Adds Storify,

11:20 PM: Adds update.

12:15 AM: Write-through

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