Who can out-community whom in Assiniboia?

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This article was published 8/4/2016 (1993 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Who can out-community whom in Assiniboia?

The riding way out Portage Avenue at the city’s westernmost end was a Tory bastion until Landslide Rondeau stole it for the NDP by three votes in 1999.

Jim Rondeau won it handily the next three elections with huge leads over a series of Tories, taking 58 to 63 per cent of the vote, the Liberals and Greens barely registering. But Rondeau has retired after being kicked out of cabinet in 2013.

The NDP is desperately trying to save its foothold in west Winnipeg, nominating provincial civil servant Joe McKellep and importing campaign manager Karl Riley from British Columbia.

But the Conservatives have countered with  formidable politico Steven Fletcher, who won four straight federal elections before being defeated in October. He'd lost his only previous attempt at a provincial nomination since he was a right-wing president of the University of Manitoba Students' Union, seemingly more keen to promote free enterprise at University Centre than to take on the university administration. His campaign says that, including school politics, the provincial association , and nominations, he's 15 for 17 so far.

Fletcher got bounced as an MP in October after winning four straight federal elections.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Tory candidate Steven Fletcher makes his way along Stewart Street in the Assiniboia riding with PC volunteers.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Tory candidate Steven Fletcher makes his way along Stewart Street in the Assiniboia riding with PC volunteers.

It’s no secret former prime minister Stephen Harper wasn’t thrilled by Fletcher’s propensity to speak his mind like an educated, empowered adult. When Harper threw him out of cabinet, Fletcher told reporters he wished he’d left cabinet the traditional way — because of a sex scandal.

He says he’s been promised the votes of his hundreds of former girlfriends in the riding.

Fletcher, who has been in a wheelchair since a highway collision with a moose as a young engineer, especially irked Harper by not keeping his mouth shut over right-to-die issues.

Fletcher said voters are telling him they would have supported him in last fall’s federal election, but for Harper. "There’s a bit of a confessional, yes. ‘We love the work you do, Steven,’ but there was an issue with the federal leadership.

"I understand the machinery of government, how to get things done, how not to get bamboozled by whoever’s doing the bamboozling," he said. 

Fletcher said Rondeau "endeared himself by attending a lot of area events" and he does the same.

Fletcher said he’s hearing a lot about NDP taxation, but he’s also meeting parents aggrieved by their kids’ ignorance of cursive writing, adding, "They want their kids to be able to add without using a telephone."

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>NDP candidate Joe McKellep talks to residents on Lake Ridge Road in Assiniboia.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

NDP candidate Joe McKellep talks to residents on Lake Ridge Road in Assiniboia.

McKellep said he’s constantly active in the community and is known to a lot of people.

"I’ve wanted to be a community representative for quite some time," McKellep said. "My main focus is to talk to the community, understand what they want and need. I coach a lot of different sports in the area, they see me in the grocery store.

"When you’re picking up garbage in the community centre, people tend to stop and talk to you."

McKellep is on leave from his job as manager of the aboriginal and community justice branch with the provincial government. He has been a resident of Winnipeg since 2005, after splitting time between here and Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

McKellep said he’s hearing from people concerned about services to seniors, accessible local health care and support for Grace Hospital.

Ian McCausland is running for the Liberals and Ileana Ohlsson for the Greens.

It is not clear if the legislature can accommodate Fletcher’s wheelchair should he be elected.

To those who fear for the architecture, Fletcher said his access won’t affect the ambience, and he offered praise to former NDP premier Gary Doer for the exterior wheelchair ramp: "People gave Doer a hard time, but it’s beautiful."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca