On election night, the Middle Province actually matters

Manitoba is a bellwether for Canadian elections, as voters in this province tend to reflect the choices of voters nationwide  — at least as far as the federalist parties are concerned.

Manitoba's seat count tends to reflect the decisions of voters nationwide

During his first Winnipeg appearance of the election campaign, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau ended up apologizing for appearing in brownface. His low personal popularity is expected to affect his party's fortunes on Monday, pollsters say. (CBC)

Given Manitoba's puny share of seats in the House of Commons — only 14 out of 338 overall — what happens in the Middle Province on election night rarely dictates the fate of Canada overall.

Nonetheless, Manitoba is a bellwether for Canadian elections, as voters in this province tend to reflect the choices of voters nationwide — at least as far as the federalist parties are concerned.

When Parliament was dissolved ahead of the Oct. 21 federal election, Manitoba was represented by seven Liberal MPs, five Conservatives and two NDPers. That's close to the same ratio of seats held by the three largest parties nationwide.

On top of that, the party that captures the most seats in Manitoba tends to be the party that wins the most seats overall. So while this province usually doesn't decide the fate of the nation, it does usually align with what Canadians decide as a whole so well, the rest of the nation may want to pay attention to what happens here on the bald, flat prairie.

"As goes Manitoba often is as goes our Parliament," said Marty Morantz, the former Winnipeg city councillor who is running as the Conservative candidate in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley.

This west Winnipeg riding is a bellwether within a bellwether: since its first MP was elected in 1997, it has usually elected a representative from the party that wins overall.

Conservative candidate Marty Morantz and Liberal Doug Eyolfson are keenly aware of the way Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley tends to elect a candidate from the winning party. (CBC)

During most of the Chretien era, Liberal John Harvard represented the riding. During the Harper years, Conservative Steven Fletcher held the seat.

Liberal Doug Eyolfson took it away in 2015, when the Liberals cruised to power on the strength of an immensely popular Justin Trudeau.

Both Morantz and Eyolfson are aware of this dynamic.

"I grew up here. I always knew it was really a more small-c conservative, centrist riding," said Eyolfson, a doctor by profession. 

Swing seats

Several other Winnipeg-area ridings have swung between Liberals and Tories in the past, including Kildonan-St. Paul, Winnipeg South, Winnipeg South Centre and Saint Boniface-Saint Vital.

All of these seats were held by the Liberals at dissolution, and they all appear to be in play on Monday, along with Winnipeg Centre — a longtime NDP riding stolen away by Liberal Robert-Falcon Ouellette in 2015.

What this means is the Liberal party runs the risk of being reduced to a rump in Manitoba, with only Kevin Lamoureux in Winnipeg North expected to win by a comfortable margin, at least based on the data-crunching by poll aggregators such as

In the 2015 federal election, the Liberal party covered most of the Winnipeg area in red. (CBC)

The main factor appears to be Justin Trudeau's plummeting popularity. The same leader who helped turn most of Winnipeg red in 2015 may lead many of those same seats to switch to blue in 2019.

Manitoba voters are no longer enamoured with the Liberal leader, said Mary Agnes Welch, a pollster with Probe Research in Winnipeg.

"I think Manitobans definitely got swept up in that sort of wave of glamour and that wave of change that happened last time, I think very similarly to the rest of Canada. We've felt that deep disappointment in him and his party, especially over the last year," she said.

"We tend to be quite centrist. We tend to be quite careful. So I think we are a pretty good example of the deep disappointment in Trudeau personally, and I think in his government."

Liberals on the hot seat

Winnipeg Liberals on the hot seat Monday include Eyolfson, Ouellette, former cabinet member MaryAnn Mihychuk in Kildonan-St. Paul, Terry Duguid in Winnipeg South and Dan Vandal in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital.

Even International Trade Minister Jim Carr isn't a lock for re-election in Winnipeg South Centre, as lists his battle with Conservative Joyce Bateman as a toss-up.

The Conservatives also have a good shot at winning Elmwood-Transcona back from Daniel Blaikie the NDP. That might result in a Winnipeg wash for the New Democrats, if they reclaim Winnipeg Centre from the Liberals.

Ouellette said he doesn't put much stock in poll aggregators.

"I think 338 said I was going to lose by 99.999 per cent in the last election," he said.

Again, that 2015 victory, along with those of his colleagues, was aided by Trudeaumania, a force that no longer exists.

Liberal Winnipeg Centre incumbent candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette faces a challenge from the NDP's Leah Gazan. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Nonetheless, Eyolfson suggested antipathy to Trudeau won't play a big role in Liberal fortunes on Monday.

"I don't know how much of a hindrance he is. I hear some people at the door say, 'I don't like your leader, but I like you,'" Eyolfson said.

"But when I engage with them on what they don't like, I find these are people who … never would have voted Liberal."

Even if that is the case, it's not like Trudeau is inspiring supporters to vote. Across Canada, including here in Winnipeg, it's safe to say Conservative supporters are very motivated right now to show up at the polls and cast a vote against the incumbent party.

While there is near-unanimity among existing polls that the Tories and Liberals are neck-and-neck in popular support, these surveys might not reflect the idea Conservative voters may be more likely to cast a ballot this time out.

The tight nature of the race between the two leading parties may explain a decision to schedule a second Trudeau visit to Winnipeg during this campaign.

If Monday's results are in fact as close as the polls predict, this may even be the rare election night when Manitoba voters actually help determine the result, instead of just reflect it.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.


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