November 12, 2019

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Riding on a razor's edge in Elmwood-Transcona

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie and Conservative Lawrence Toet are in another dogfight

The names on some signs in the Elmwood-Transcona riding are the same as in 2015, except in this election, the NDP's Daniel Blaikie is the incumbent and Conservative Lawrence Toet is the challenger.</p></p>

The names on some signs in the Elmwood-Transcona riding are the same as in 2015, except in this election, the NDP's Daniel Blaikie is the incumbent and Conservative Lawrence Toet is the challenger.

There are campaign signs supporting two different candidates in front of Stan Zaborowski’s house: one for incumbent Elmwood-Transcona MP Daniel Blaikie (NDP) and one for Lawrence Toet, the Conservative challenger.

"I didn’t put them there," Zaborowski said, explaining they were in the yard when he returned from a recent weekend at the cottage and hasn’t got around to taking them down yet.

Though the retired painter didn’t put the signs up, they are a clear illustration of just how tight the race is perceived to be between Blaikie — 35, son of longtime Transcona MP Bill Blaikie and, since his win in 2015, one of the most prominent NDP politicians in Manitoba — and Toet, 57, who served as MP from 2011 until 2015, when he lost his bid for a second term to Blaikie by 61 votes, the slimmest margin in the country.

Four years later, both the Conservatives and the NDP have thrown considerable resources and attention toward ensuring the margin of victory widens, but it’s anyone’s guess which candidate will end up celebrating Monday night. Also in the running are Liberal Jennifer Malabar and Green Kelly Manweiler.

"To my mind, Transcona is one of the most interesting corners of the city," said Probe Research principal Mary Agnes Welch, adding the community is developing with waves of new housing and population growth. Traditionally, it was a left-leaning, working class, union-friendly riding but that’s begun to shift.

Most interesting to Welch is the way the riding has changed politically; for more than three decades, it was represented in Parliament by the NDP (Bill Blaikie, 1979-2008, Jim Maloway, 2008-11). Toet defeated Maloway by 300 votes in 2011, only to be beaten by Blaikie's son in 2015.

It isn’t often a riding goes from one end of the political spectrum directly to the opposite one, especially in back-to-back elections, she said.

Daniel Blaikie says the close race between him and former MP Lawrence Toet has been a constant reminder of the need to work hard in the constituancy. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Daniel Blaikie says the close race between him and former MP Lawrence Toet has been a constant reminder of the need to work hard in the constituancy. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

Election night in 2015 was a roller-coaster ride, Blaikie recalled. The razor-thin margin of victory wasn't finalized until after midnight.

The photo finish has kept him on his toes, a constant reminder of the need to work hard to maintain support, he said. Since his win, he’s held 11 town-hall meetings with community members, and has been an active participant in efforts to help save the Concordia Hospital emergency room, which has been converted to an urgent care centre by Premier Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservative government.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said earlier this week that if his party became part of a coalition government, it would push for Concordia's ER to reopen. While health care is under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government can influence decisions because it gives the provinces hundreds of millions of dollars in transfer payments.

"While we still don’t have an ER, we did move the needle," Blaikie said, touting his commitment to improving health care through the NDP’s universal pharmacare plan. And Blaikie said it was his duty to become involved in the fight to keep the ER open, a major concern for Elmwood-Transcona residents.

"I understood what it means. I felt I was a part of something that mattered," he said.

Proper pension protections for employees, active transportation and climate action are vital to his candidacy and his party’s platform, Blaikie said.

He has been endorsed by renowned environmentalist David Suzuki and the union that represents Winnipeg Transit workers.

Despite repeated attempts to interview Toet, he declined to speak with the Free Press, instead relying on responses he provided in a pre-election questionnaire.

Lawrence Toet held the Elmwood-Transcona riding from 2011 to 2015 after beating Jim Maloway by 300 votes. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Lawrence Toet held the Elmwood-Transcona riding from 2011 to 2015 after beating Jim Maloway by 300 votes. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"The biggest issues facing our community are concerns about affordability and health care. People are working hard and yet they don’t feel they are getting ahead. If you work hard, you should be able to buy a home, save for retirement and care for your children and your parents as they age," he said at the time.

"While health care is a provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has an important role to play in ensuring that it is appropriately funded."

After his loss in 2015, Toet moved into the private sector and also worked on Maxime Bernier's Conservative leadership campaign in 2016. Bernier lost to Andrew Scheer, and then formed the People’s Party of Canada he now leads.

The Elmwood-Transcona seat was the lone Winnipeg riding not won by a Liberal candidate in 2015's Justin Trudeau-led wave. Voters in the riding have never elected a Grit to Parliament. In each federal election since 2000, the Liberal candidate has finished third.

Still, Blaikie, and presumably Toet, are not taking anything for granted, knowing just how important each and every vote is to the final count.

"The fact is any good politician does worry at election time," said Blaikie. "It keeps you working hard, that’s for sure."

Meanwhile, Zaborowski isn't sure who he'll vote for.

"I’ll have to talk to my wife," he said. "She’s the boss."

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

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