November 22, 2019

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Federal leaders hard to spot on Prairies

OTTAWA — The Prairies have become a literal flyover zone this election campaign, with few visits by federal leaders between the Rockies and the Ontario border.

"I do think it has governing consequences," said Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

With six days to go until campaigns wind down for the Oct. 21 election day, leaders have made a combined five visits to Winnipeg over the past five weeks.

"That surprises me, given that Manitoba’s more at play than either Saskatchewan nor Alberta. But it might be the small number of seats there," Bratt said.

The rest of the Prairies have hardly seen the leaders during the official writ period, with a combined eight visits to Alberta and Saskatchewan. That seems common to Bratt, as most of those ridings are solidly Conservative.

"You campaign where the votes are; where you have to win," Bratt said.

 

It’s unlikely anyone else will be making a trip to Canada’s heart, after Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s Thanksgiving visit to the Winnipeg Radisson went sideways.

Storm evacuees in the hotel lobby griped to reporters Monday they’d rather politicians help them out. Some feared Scheer’s media pack would take up much-needed hotel space, though their stopover was not overnight.

It was Scheer’s second visit to the city during the campaign, after a Sept. 17 stop to announce a pledge for more generous RESPs. That makes him the most frequent visitor.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has touched down in Winnipeg just once this campaign, the evening of the "brownface" revelation. Instead of a policy announcement the next morning, he instead made an afternoon public apology downtown Sept. 19.

Leaders shirking most of Prairies

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OTTAWA — Federal leaders have largely avoided the Prairies, with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer only slightly more visible than his opponents in the region.

Scheer has twice visited Alberta (34 ridings), while the leaders for the Liberals, Greens and People’s Party have each been once. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh hasn’t set foot in the province, where his stance against the oilsands has upset even provincial NDP representatives.

In Saskatchewan (14 ridings), columnists have noted leaders of the three largest parties have each made one visit to Saskatoon and not even stopped in Regina (despite that city being home to Scheer’s own riding).

Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, expects Scheer will show up at the end of the campaign to cast a ballot in Regina, where the Tories are trying to defeat Liberal MP Ralph Goodale but still haven’t yet sent their leader.

He’s concerned about any party winning government without an MP from each region to ensure their provinces’ issues are on the cabinet agenda.

“(Alberta Premier) Jason Kenney has sent more time campaigning for Andrew Scheer in Ontario, than he has inside Alberta,” Bratt noted.

— Dylan Robertson

A spokeswoman wouldn’t say if Trudeau plans to be back in Friendly Manitoba.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh popped by the city Sept. 24, a few days after Green Leader Elizabeth May’s visit.

People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier hasn’t been to the city during the writ period. That’s despite the party’s Charleswood-area candidate attracting enough interest in polling to help vault Bernier into the official leaders debates.

Bernier flew over the most of the Prairies after a September visit to Calgary, showing up in Quebec the morning after.

Bratt argued the comparative absence of federal leaders limits the debate around regional issues.

Bill C-69, which reformed how major infrastructure projects and pipelines are assessed, ignited a firestorm in Alberta but has seldom come up on the campaign trail. Calls to overhaul equalization payments have also been largely absent from the podium.

"Andrew Scheer will talk about that in Calgary, but he won’t talk about it outside," Bratt said.

He said reconciliation has largely been framed around Northern Ontario and the northern coast of British Columbia, as leaders are fighting over those ridings.

"They’re not dealing with Indigenous people along the Prairies, even though the percentage is so much higher," Bratt said.

However, many of the leaders did visit Winnipeg and the Prairies in the months-long lead-up to the Sept. 11 writ period.

Still, think tanks and columnists across the Prairies have noticed the leaders’ absence in a region that accounts for almost one-fifth of seats in the Commons.

Meanwhile, Trudeau and Scheer have made two dozen visits to Toronto-area battleground ridings, and numerous stops in Quebec, though some ridings are a short drive away from each other.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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