From profanity-laced fake flyers, to elbow jabbing, to even more profanity, the race for Winnipeg Centre has garnered some of the most headlines this election — but not necessarily for the right reasons.
It is one of the poorest ridings in Canada, with one of the lowest voter turnout rates in Manitoba, and this year it is a race filled with big personalities, including one of Ottawa’s most outspoken MPs, New Democrat Pat Martin.
Coupled with Liberal candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette’s polarizing news releases and tweets, plus the no-holds-barred attack approach by Green candidate Don Woodstock in debates, even the national spotlight has shone on the riding.
"It is an interesting, diverse neighbourhood that has interesting, diverse characters running in it — it’s hard to find a more interesting cross-section of candidates," said Martin, who spoke to the Free Press at his campaign office on Portage Avenue Thursday.
A swear jar now sits in Martin’s office, a constant reminder for him to choose his words wisely after a fiery debate at Portage Place shopping centre gained national attention after Martin called Woodstock a son of a bitch and a f—-ing prick; he also allegedly elbowed Woodstock in the ribs at one point.
"It’s not going to happen again, and I shouldn’t have let them get to me," Martin promised, joking he also keeps a picture of his mother in his pocket to keep him in check.
Historically, the riding has been an NDP stronghold since Martin won in 1997, and in 2011 he won with more than 53 per cent of the vote.
Traditionally, it is a riding with a low voter turnout rate, with only 48 per cent of eligible voters casting their ballots in 2011.
However, the tides could be changing in the riding.
Estimated advance voter turnout figures have already surpassed 2011 figures by 164 per cent, which Martin described as "heartening."
It is unclear whether an increase in turnout will help or hurt Martin, as he faces off against Ouellette, who is Cree, and has been unofficially campaigning since he announced his intention to run in December.
A drive down Arlington Street this week shows a near even split between the two candidates’ sign presence, and even Martin admits this time around he’s had to work a little harder than in previous elections.
Conservative candidate Allie Szarkiewicz, a retired teacher who now works in human resources, was a late entry in the race after Bev Pitura had to drop out for personal reasons. She hasn’t been seen at many events around the riding, but said she is door-knocking every day and getting positive reception at the door.
Darrell Rankin is running for the Communist Party of Canada.
Scott Miller of the Christian Heritage Party is also running.
With an average individual income of only $28,000 a year, alleviating poverty remains the top issue.
"It has been poor for a very long time, and I don’t think we have to accept the status quo," said Ouellette. "I think a lot of people are looking for a candidate that might form government. Winnipeg Centre has always been in opposition, and I think being around that table making those decisions... that is going to be important."
During the campaign, Ouellette has sent saucy emails suggesting Martin doesn’t live in Winnipeg, pointing to his ownership of a property on B.C.’s Salt Spring Island, and flaunting his internal polling numbers that show he’s ahead. Ouellette told the debate audience former federal NDP leader Tommy Douglas would vote for him if he were alive.
Since the onset of the race, Woodstock, a Winnipeg Transit driver by day, has touted the fact he is the only candidate who lives in the riding, and he is the only one who will fix the issues in the riding because he understands the needs of the community.
Martin says before voters decide it is time to jump over to the Liberals or another party, they should remember his record in office and his experience, which will allow him to work with any party, regardless of the outcome on Monday.
"I seem to have a polarized kind of electorate, either you like me or don’t, but you can’t deny I bring home the bacon," Martin said.