Manitoba NDP likely to win stronghold seat in The Pas byelection
Seat has been empty since NDP MLA Frank Whitehead resigned in May of 2014
On Tuesday, the governing NDP will be tested by Manitobans for the first time since an internal feud erupted publicly last fall.
In the 2011 provincial election, New Democrat Frank Whitehead won the seat with 73 per cent of the vote. The constituency has been in New Democratic hands since 1969.
The biggest challenge for the candidates is voter apathy; at 30.4 per cent, The Pas constituency had the lowest voter turnout in the province in the 2011 election. Compare that to the provincial average voter turnout of 55.8 per cent, and in some suburban Winnipeg constituencies, such as Seine River and Southdale, where more than 70 per cent of people voted, and you get a picture of how engaged the public was in The Pas that election.
'Oh, there's a byelection going on?'
Former mayor of The Pas Al McLauchlan said in the largest town in the constituency, it's hard to tell there's a byelection ongoing.
McLauchlan thinks the lack of interest stems from the fact that The Pas constituency has been without an MLA for almost a year. Whitehead resigned his post in May 2014 and The Pas has remained unrepresented ever since.
McLauchlan also thinks an unfair nomination process may sour some voters and keep them from the polls.
Anger lingers over coin-toss tie breaker
After a 10-month NDP nomination campaign, Amanda Lathlin won when a 295 vote tie was broken by a coin toss March 14.
In the event of a tie, the Manitoba Liberals would also use a coin toss. The PC party said its policy is to seal the constituency president's vote and use it only in a tie situation.
"I'm thinking long and hard on my vote," he said. "I don't believe our representatives should be selected by a coin toss and I'm thinking very, very hard on my vote."
McLauchlan said he doesn't know the Liberal candidate and that she has no ties to the area, so he isn't considering voting for her.
"You really have a two horse race here between the conservatives and the NDP."
A year without representation
McLauchlan and the current mayor Jim Scott said it's a shame the riding has been without provincial representation for almost a year.
"We have no infrastructure projects on the horizon," Scott said. "I want representation; we haven't had one in a year."
The mayor said without a member in the provincial legislature, no one has fought on their behalf on issues such as outdated infrastructure, soaring property taxes and airport landing fees at the municipal airport.
PC candidate Nasekapow said it's unacceptable Premier Greg Selinger took almost a year to call the byelection.
"We need to be treated equally, and we need to be represented well," Nasekapow said in his campaign headquarters in the basement of the Wescana Inn, The Pas. "A lot of people, when I door knock, said they want to be heard and they want to have a voice."
Nasekapow was a social worker for 15 years and said, along with representation, addressing the crisis of kids under the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services (CFS) is a priority.
Don't know, don't care
"I just don't really pay attention to politics," Marr said. "It's not something I concern myself with."
The child care worker said her No. 1 priority is aboriginal issues. She has mixed children of her own and is concerned their children will lose treaty rights.
In the past, she voted provincially and federally for the Liberals, but only because her step father taught her too.
In The Pas constituency, about half the voters are aboriginal. Marr said that has something to do with the low voter turnout.
"There's a large population of First Nations people and I guarantee you I'm not the only one that feels this way," she said. "The aboriginal people who do vote tend to vote NDP, because they cater towards aboriginal people."
NDP likely to keep stronghold
NDP candidate Amanda Lathlin is the daughter of former MLA and cabinet minister Oscar Lathlin.
"My roots are firmly planted here," Amanda Lathlin said. "It's my passion to improve lives for people here."
Lathlin was former MLA Frank Whitehead's assistant for 18 months, until he left politics last year.
The rookie provincial politician is a former band councillor and is currently a workforce co-ordinator at the University College of the North.
Lathlin weighs in on NDP controversies
She is unfazed by months of turmoil within the NDP and is optimistic there won't be a backlash against her because of the party's troubles.
"The reconciliation process has begun," she said. "They all met as a team, as a caucus, to discuss this. The outcome was great."
"We're all united once again. The 5 members are back in caucus and I'm not worried at all. I'm actually looking forward to working with everyone."
Lathlin also spoke publicly for the first time since her coin-toss tie-breaker win at the NDP nomination meeting.
"It was a difficult and emotional way," she said. "It's not the way you want to win a nomination process and not the way you want to lose. But afterwards, Florence (the opposing candidate) and I created a bond, and we are now working with each other and campaigning on behalf of the NDP."
At the time of the toss, Florence Duncan, who lost the NDP nomination, said she felt "betrayed" by the NDP.
Lathlin thinks the NDP constitution should be looked at going forward in case a tie ever happens again.
Outsider wants in
Liberal candidate Vystrcil-Spence is criticized by some for being the only candidate who lives outside the constituency. The single mother of two lives in Lorette, Man., but has strong ties to the constituency, she said.
As the health director for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), she has travelled extensively throughout the area, leading the organization's response to the H1N1 crisis in 2009.
Vyztrcil-Spence also said she was born in nearby Nelson House and grew up in Thompson.
She has an uphill battle before her. In 2011, the Liberals received only 115 votes, or 2.8 per cent of the total.
"I know what I'm up against," she said, speaking about her slim chances. "I know that the government of the day has been around for a long time, and that they've had a firm hold within the north, but what I would like to bring is, I suppose, a different perspective.
"They've been given that opportunity, they've had the privilege of governing for a long time and we're not seeing the results."