MLA Judy Klassen sets sights on federal seat, saying 'proper representation' would save lives

The Manitoba Liberal member of the legislative assembly will seek the Liberal nomination in the northern riding of Churchill-Kewatinook Aski, she announced Thursday.

Kewatinook representative hopes to take on NDP's Niki Ashton in October

Liberal Judy Klassen, who represents Kewatinook in the Manitoba Legislature, will seek the federal Liberal nomination for the riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Manitoba provincial politician Judy Klassen wants to take on NDP MP Niki Ashton in the next federal election.

The Manitoba Liberal member of the legislative assembly will seek the federal Liberal nomination in the northern riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, she announced Thursday.

"The investments that the federal government has made in the north have really greatly impacted my communities and I want to make sure that continues," she said at a news conference.

"Had we had proper … representation for my people, I believe that we wouldn't have had to bury so many people unnecessarily these past decades."

If Klassen becomes a candidate in the federal election, she must resign her seat in the legislature, because the Canada Elections Act says MLAs are not eligible to be candidates in federal elections.

"My understanding is that … I would have to resign right before the writ drops," she said.

That would threaten the Manitoba Liberals' official party status in the legislature, which comes with benefits such as funding, research staff and a guaranteed presence in question period and on committees. The Liberals currently have four MLAs, the minimum required for official party status.

The incumbent was there for a long time and we were still struggling with poverty, still struggling with so many issues.- Judy Klassen

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said he's not worried about that risk.

"We're going to have official party status going into this election, because I think there's going to be an election this summer," Lamont said.

"And we're going to come out of it with much more than official party status."

Klassen says her name will still stand on the Manitoba Liberal candidate nomination papers for the provincial Kewatinook riding she currently represents. The nomination meeting is scheduled for April 24.

She will withdraw from the provincial nomination if and when she wins the nomination as the federal candidate.

Lamont rejected a suggestion that Klassen is using the provincial Liberals as a back-up plan for if she isn't elected federally.

"I wouldn't characterize it that way," he said.

"I'll support her in whatever she wants to do."

Lamont said Klassen has talked about helping recruit candidates to replace her, but the uncertainty surrounding the date of the next provincial election has stopped them from taking further steps.

"We're in an odd position," he said.

"Because of that, everything's up in the air. So we're trying to cover our bases, and so is she."

Despite criticism the prime minister has faced from some Indigenous leaders over the SNC-Lavalin affair, Klassen said she believes Justin Trudeau has helped Indigenous people.

Former Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was eventually ejected from the federal Liberal caucus as she accused her party of exerting inappropriate pressure on her in connection with the corruption and fraud case against the Quebec engineering firm.

"She is a strong Indigenous person and she has laid the groundwork and she is one of the reasons I am running, because I believe that the Trudeau government is one of the ones that have finally listened and started opening those doors for my people," Klassen said.

She said she doesn't know whether expelling Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus was the right thing to do because she doesn't know all the details of what happened.

"I'm not privy to that," she said.

The federal Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding encompasses all of northern Manitoba.

Klassen is originally from St. Theresa Point, an Indigenous community about 465 kilometres north of Winnipeg that is in the riding. The provincial riding of Kewatinook is in the eastern part of the federal riding.

She won the Kewatinook riding in 2016, beating former NDP cabinet minister and longtime MLA Eric Robinson. She launched a strong ground campaign in that election, taking to ice roads to visit all 14 reserves in the provincial riding.

Ashton, the current Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP, was first elected in 2008.

"The north has been opening up and we just need that continuing investment and it happened under Justin Trudeau, whereas the incumbent was there for a long time and we were still struggling with poverty, still struggling with so many issues," Klassen said Thursday.

Niki Ashton declined to comment on Klassen's announcement.

The next federal election is expected to take place on Oct. 21.


Lara Schroeder

Copy editor

Lara Schroeder is an online copy editor for CBC Manitoba who dabbles in writing and radio. She started her career as a reporter at small-town community newspapers, but her English degree and habits nurtured by her English teacher dad and grammatically meticulous mom steered her toward editing. Her many jobs have included editing at the Toronto Star, the National Post, the Toronto Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press.

With files from Ian Froese and Caitlyn Gowriluk


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