When it comes to provincial election rematches, St. Vital may again be among Manitoba’s closest fights.
During their first head-to-head ballot showdown in 2016, Tory candidate Colleen Mayer beat New Democrat Jamie Moses by only 398 votes in the south Winnipeg constituency.
They are facing off again this year in what’s likely to be another nail-biter, with Liberal candidate Jeffrey Anderson also in the mix. All three candidates have roots in St. Vital.
Mayer, 47, lives in the Elm Park area with her husband and two sons, aged 17 and 20. Before getting elected during the Tories’ 2016 blue wave, she worked stints as an executive assistant to the area city councillor and as executive director of the Old St. Vital Business Improvement Zone.
Though her profile rose when she became Crown Services minister last year, Mayer has been (at least publicly) one of the quieter members of Premier Brian Pallister’s cabinet. She’s at the helm of two of the government’s most contentious files: Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Public Insurance — questions on which are most often addressed by the premier.
Opponents say her seat is vulnerable, due in part to frustration with Pallister and his government’s health-care reforms in Winnipeg, but also because of self-inflicted political wounds.
Mayer has drawn heat over accusations the province has sided with the Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba over MPI in talks about modernizing services. She’s also been called out by the Manitoba Metis Federation for quashed agreements it had with Hydro.
In April, two months before Pallister called the election, the PC party kicked off one of its first real door-knocking blitzes of the year in St. Vital, with the premier on hand to rally the troops.
During a conversation at her campaign office on St. Mary’s Road, Mayer focused on the highlights of her time as MLA. Campaigning, she said, is about more than knocking on doors during the election.
"It’s about showing up. Showing that you’re just not here for the election. Being there whether that’s serving the pancakes, talking to the people, helping them connect with those services that support them," she said.
Mayer reported the key issues in her constituency — and her two main focuses — are child care and affordability. She said health care also comes up at the doors and in her conversations with nurses in the community.
"They agree something needs to change. They support those changes," Mayer said. "I hope that they’re going to allow us that next mandate, that next term to see those come into fruition."
Pallister made overhauling health care one of his priorities in his first term. The decision to consolidate Winnipeg’s emergency room care to three hospitals and convert three ERs into urgent care centres has been widely criticized by the opposition, unions that represent health-care workers and some members of the public.
Moses and the NDP are focused on health care. While both the candidate and party bring up affordability and climate plans as other priorities, it’s clear they’d rather target what they view as the Tories’ weak point.
"Health care is certainly the No. 1 issue we hear at the doorstep," Moses said at his St. Anne’s Road campaign office, which he shares with Riel candidate Michael Moyes.
The electoral boundaries have been changed for this election. The St. Vital constituency stretches further west, encompassing neighbourhoods near St. Vital Park that had been part of Riel.
The NDP held its campaign launch in St. Vital Park, with leader Wab Kinew signalling it was a constituency the party planned to win back.
"Really, it’s kind of the same reason I wanted to run the first time," said Moses, 34. "With kids now, we want to look at the future, make sure it’s a good place and a good community for us to live in."
Moses lives in the St. George area with his wife and two young children (16 months and three years old). He works at Rapid RTC, a tech company based out of the University of Manitoba’s SmartPark.
When asked about his competition, Moses keeps things cordial, not mentioning Mayer by name but listing off issues with MPI and Hydro.
"Competition is always part of the nature of politics, but what I like to do is focus on our campaign, right? Focus on our message," Moses said.
Anderson, a 49-year-old former civil servant, is more blunt.
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"Both the NDP and the PCs are using the same election slogan right now. It’s ridonkulous," he said, referring to the "Moving Manitoba Forward" slogan the PCs adopted this year and the NDP ran with in 2016.
Anderson’s background is in information technology and he’s lived in the St. George neighbourhood with his wife for 10 years. They have two children: two and seven years old.
He hopes Manitobans shake off any summertime complacency and vote "with their conscience," to help secure a win for the Grits in St. Vital for the first time since 1988.
"(Manitobans) have to really stop voting based on what their parents did or what they’ve always done in the past," Anderson said. "They have to truly, honestly be critical and look in their heart and say, ‘It’s OK to vote Liberal.’ I think that’s really what it is."
Baljeet Sharma is running as an Independent.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski Legislature reporter
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
The south Winnipeg constituency is book-ended by the Red River to the north and west, the Seine River to the east, and Bishop Grandin Boulevard to the south. Income levels vary dramatically, from more affluent homes near Kingston Row and Victoria Crescent to larger swaths of apartment blocks and lower-income households near St. Anne’s and Beliveau roads.
Child care, health care, education and affordability.
Since the 1970s, St. Vital residents have usually voted NDP, with the party representing the constituency for 34 of the past 48 years. (For about two years, 1988-90, the Liberals took over. The Tories have held the riding the rest of the time.) Before Progressive Conservative candidate Colleen Mayer was elected in 2016, New Democrat Nancy Allan was the MLA from 1999 until 2016, when she didn’t run for re-election. She took candidate Jamie Moses under her wing and mentored him, starting before her retirement. In order to make gains in vote-rich Winnipeg, the NDP is eager to win back St. Vital. In 2016, it lost the seat by only 398 votes.