Eleven months ago, Manitoba Progressive Conservatives celebrated when Tory-friendly candidate Thomas Steen ended 21 years of New Democratic Party reign over the city council seat of Elmwood-East Kildonan.

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This article was published 25/9/2011 (3599 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Eleven months ago, Manitoba Progressive Conservatives celebrated when Tory-friendly candidate Thomas Steen ended 21 years of New Democratic Party reign over the city council seat of Elmwood-East Kildonan.

Similar cheers erupted in May, when Conservative Lawrence Toet wrested Elmwood-Transcona away from the NDP for the first time since Winnipeg's easternmost federal riding was created in 1988.

With just over a week left before Manitobans elect a new provincial government, the Tories are hoping to score a northeast Winnipeg trifecta by stealing away one or two ridings from a section of the city long considered NDP territory.

While the strategic battle over vote-rich Winnipeg has played out publicly in the marquee contests in Seine River and Assiniboia, where high-profile Progressive Conservatives are attempting to unseat NDP cabinet members, Manitoba Tories are quietly hoping for a third consecutive northeast Winnipeg breakthrough.

But the precise location of this effort -- long-held NDP seats such as Elmwood, Radisson and Rossmere are possible candidates -- remains a secret the Tory campaign is not willing to divulge.

"I think it's fair to say in almost all 57 ridings, we're running a very aggressive ground campaign. From our perspective, almost anything can happen," said Progressive Conservative campaign manager Marni Larkin, who quietly assisted Steen's city council campaign in 2010 and played a formal role in Toet's victory over Jim Maloway in Transcona this May.

Larkin did not deny she is employing a similar quiet strategy in northeast Winnipeg during the provincial campaign. But she declined to identify specific ridings.

"I don't think any of them are easier targets," Larkin said.

Elmwood, where Maloway is attempting a comeback, is the most obvious candidate, as the Tories have not been shy about chiding the MLA-turned-MP for once again pursuing provincial office. Rossmere, the former riding of federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, was held by Tories as recently as 1999.

But the federal Conservatives won the most polls this May in relatively suburban Radisson, held by the NDP since 1990, thanks to the recent provincial boundary redistribution.

The prospect of a Tory trifecta in northeast Winnipeg is not a tremendous worry to the NDP, said campaign manager Michael Balagus, whose forces are trying to wrest another northeast riding -- River East -- away from Tory Bonnie Mitchelson, who defeated Kurt Penner by a mere 60 votes in 2007.

Balagus said he doesn't believe Larkin had much to do with Steen's victory in an Elmwood-East Kildonan race where two NDP-affiliated candidates, Shaneen Robinson and Rod Giesbrecht, split the left-of-centre vote.

"As much as I like to take credit for our strategic brilliance, when you have two NDP candidates running and one Tory, the Tory's going to win," Balagus said.

Yet Balagus acknowledged the demographic change underway in once blue-collar Transcona may have played a role in Toet's victory over Maloway in May.

"It's a very changed Transcona," he said. "But we're also a much broader party than we were in the 1980s. The blue-collar vote is still critical to us, but we have a much wider base."

Balagus said he is not too concerned about the federal results in Elmwood-Transcona spilling over into the provincial race, noting the provincial NDP holds many Winnipeg seats in areas where the federal party has none.

"I'll be honest, we're not overly worried about it. We're watching it," he said.

Both of the contending party leaders have spent time in northeast Winnipeg. On the first formal day of the provincial campaign, NDP Leader Greg Selinger laid out his party's priorities in River East, while Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen made a crime announcement Wednesday in Elmwood.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

BATTLEFIELD:

Northeast Winnipeg

 

October 2010: Tory-affiliated Thomas Steen defeats a pair of NDP-affiliated candidates to win the city council race in Elmwood-East Kildonan, held by NDP-affiliated Lillian Thomas from 1989 until her retirement last year.

May 2011: Conservative Lawrence Toet defeats Jim Maloway in the federal race in Elmwood-Transcona, held by the NDP's Maloway (2008-2011) and predecessor Bill Blaikie (1988-2008) since the seat was created.

October 2011: The Progressive Conservative campaign is believed to be working on wresting away another long-held NDP riding in northeast Winnipeg. Possibilities include: Elmwood, held by the NDP or predecessor party CCF for all but two of the past 53 years; Radisson, held by the NDP/CCF for all but eight of the past 53 years; and Rossmere, last held by the Tories in 1999.