March 22, 2019

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Who will win the election? Just look to Gimli riding

Gimli PC candidate Jeff Wharton (centre) and his wife Mickey speak to undecided voter Frank Harder while canvassing in Riverton, Man. on Friday, April 1, 2016.</p></p>

Gimli PC candidate Jeff Wharton (centre) and his wife Mickey speak to undecided voter Frank Harder while canvassing in Riverton, Man. on Friday, April 1, 2016.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/4/2016 (1079 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GIMLI — If any Manitoba riding serves as a political bellwether, it’s the long, skinny one on the west side of Lake Winnipeg’s southern basin.

Fifteen out of the past 16 times Manitoba held an election, voters in Gimli selected the party that won power across the province. Only once since 1958 have election-night results in Gimli differed from those of the province overall.

Otherwise, Gimli has served as a microcosm for the larger see-saw battle between Manitoba’s New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives, the only parties to win this riding or the province over the past 58 years. This situation is likely to continue this year.

With no Liberal candidate on the Gimli ballot in 2016 — Elections Manitoba disqualified Joanne Levy on the basis she served as an enumerator — the NDP and Tories are once again locked in a head-to-head battle in the heavily Icelandic riding.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/4/2016 (1079 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GIMLI — If any Manitoba riding serves as a political bellwether, it’s the long, skinny one on the west side of Lake Winnipeg’s southern basin.

Fifteen out of the past 16 times Manitoba held an election, voters in Gimli selected the party that won power across the province. Only once since 1958 have election-night results in Gimli differed from those of the province overall.

Otherwise, Gimli has served as a microcosm for the larger see-saw battle between Manitoba’s New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives, the only parties to win this riding or the province over the past 58 years. This situation is likely to continue this year.

With no Liberal candidate on the Gimli ballot in 2016 — Elections Manitoba disqualified Joanne Levy on the basis she served as an enumerator — the NDP and Tories are once again locked in a head-to-head battle in the heavily Icelandic riding.

This year, there’s no incumbent in the race for Gimli, thanks to the retirement of three-term NDP MLA Peter Bjornson in 2015. The wide-open race to replace Bjornson features candidates with backgrounds emblematic of their respective party stereotypes: an environmentalist NDP candidate versus an entrepreneurial Progressive Conservative.

For the past eight years, Armand Bélanger has managed the East Interlake Conservation District. He approached Bjornson, his former high school teacher, for advice about seeking the NDP nomination shortly after the 12-year MLA resigned.

"It was a surprise when Peter stepped down," said Bélanger, 37, sitting in a coffee shop around the corner from his campaign headquarters on Gimli’s Centre Street. "Peter was well-liked in the area, and his family was well-known, with Icelandic heritage. It’s big shoes to fill, that’s for sure."

Bélanger, who lives west of Gimli, identifies the health of Lake Winnipeg and the need for more personal care homes as the biggest issues facing the riding, which is home to hundreds of commercial fishers and has one of the oldest populations in the province.

photos by BARTLEY KIVES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Top: Gimli NDP candidate Armand Bélanger (centre) and volunteer Jersey Sundseth chat with supporter Rick Morrison in Ponemah. Above: Gimli PC candidate Jeff Wharton (centre) and his wife, Mickey, speak to undecided voter Frank Harder while canvassing in Riverton.</p>

photos by BARTLEY KIVES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Top: Gimli NDP candidate Armand Bélanger (centre) and volunteer Jersey Sundseth chat with supporter Rick Morrison in Ponemah. Above: Gimli PC candidate Jeff Wharton (centre) and his wife, Mickey, speak to undecided voter Frank Harder while canvassing in Riverton.

Bélanger also said he wants to continue making improvements to the health-care infrastructure in Gimli. As evidence of progress under the NDP, he resorts to anecdote: his late father benefited from a dialysis unit added to Gimli hospital.

Jeff Wharton, the Progressive Conservative candidate, also resorts to anecdote to demonstrate the poor state of health care in the riding: One recent afternoon, when his wife slipped on ice and hit her head near their home at Winnipeg Beach, she was told she had 15 minutes to make it to Gimli hospital if she wanted medical attention.

"You can’t get a doctor here in Gimli after 5 p.m. That’s not acceptable," said Wharton, 53, sitting in an office in his own Centre Street campaign headquarters. "We shouldn’t be worried about whether we have a doctor 10 minutes away."

Wharton is the co-founder and former owner of Globe Moving & Storage, which he said he built from "one truck and a spare-bedroom office" to a company employing about 80 people out of offices in Winnipeg and Brandon.

A former Winnipeg Beach municipal councillor, Wharton is taking his second crack at winning the provincial Gimli riding. In 2011, he fell 802 votes short of defeating Bjornson.

This year, he cites the inability to retain doctors in Gimli and the shortage of personal care homes in the riding as the greatest issues facing the constituency.

Neither he nor Bélanger believe the absence of a Liberal candidate in Gimli will affect the outcome April 19. In 2011, the Liberal candidate received two per cent of the popular vote in the riding.

Along the NDP and PC candidates, the Green party’s Dwight Harfield and the Manitoba Party’s Ed Paquette are also running in Gimli.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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