The Conservative Party has taken the unusual step in the Brandon-Souris byelection of distributing letters signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging people to vote for his party.
The letter takes aim at the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals and tells voters in the Manitoba riding that Harper needs Conservative candidate Larry Maguire as part of his “team in Ottawa.”
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Brandon voter Kathryn Giesbrecht said she received the letter this week, addressed to her maiden name, and wasn’t impressed with the tactic.
“I found it insulting,” she said. "I get this great letter, but I am a university student, and the Conservative candidate couldn’t be bothered to come and talk to me."
Giesbrecht said the letter makes the Conservatives look desperate for votes in the election.
“The Conservatives are scrambling. You are looking at $1, easily $1 to $1.50 per letter,” she said, adding they’re all over her riding. "I'm not really impressed and I think that they're grasping at straws to try and get that last couple of votes."
Giesbrecht also wants to know who paid for the letter, whether it was sent with taxpayer money or came out of the Conservative Party’s pocket.
The letter’s return address indicates it came from the Conservative Party of Canada, but also contains the signature of Harper.
The unusual move is only the latest in what has been a bizarre and increasingly close byelection, one each party appears desperate to win.
Leaders of both the NDP, Tom Mulcair, and Trudeau have visited the riding to ramp up support for their candidates, Cory Szczepanski and Rolf Dinsdale respectively.
Harper announced on Thursday he would be visiting Winnipeg on Friday, but his staff were adamant he would not make an appearance in Brandon-Souris or Provencher, where another byelection is underway.
The Conservative Party has, however, distributed attack ads taking aim at Trudeau’s stance on marijuana and gun laws.
The party has also criticized Dinsdale for not having strong enough roots in the riding. Dinsdale created a brief controversy during the campaign when his punk-rock band and previous claims about his work experience surfaced.
The traditionally right-leaning riding was previously held by Conservative MP Merv Tweed, who vacated the seat to take a top job at the Canadian division of rail company OmniTrax. And before that, a long line of Conservatives. In fact, the party has only lost an election in the riding once in the past 60 years.
“If the Liberals were to win, it would be embarrassing and demoralizing for the Conservatives,” said University of Manitoba political studies professor Royce Koop.
“The fact that the leaders are actually campaigning, and they’re putting time and investing effort into the riding shows that they actually care about it — that this is a race that the parties are very concerned with and interested in winning.”
Recent polls have favoured the Liberals, but Maguire said in a debate the numbers didn’t faze him. Other candidates have called Maguire to the carpet for missing two all-candidates debates.
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Tweed said he hopes the Conservatives maintain their hold in the area, but added he wasn’t happy with the nomination process that ultimately resulted in Maguire being chosen as the Tory candidate.
“I think a good race is what you need to build your party and team and regrettably that didn’t happen, so people didn’t get the chance,” said Tweed, referring to Chris Kennedy being tossed out of the Conservative competition over issues with his nomination papers.
Despite that, Tweed said he still thinks the Conservative Party will win the riding.
“I think the people that have voted Conservative are happy with what the Harper government has done,” he said. “We’ve brought a lot of investment to that community.”
Tweed wouldn’t speculate on why attack ads or other measures were being taken in the riding, saying, “I’m away from that now, so I hope the Conservatives maintain the hold, but it’s a difficult situation right now.”
Advance polling has already been completed, and remaining voters will hit the polls on Nov. 25.