Manitoba election: As St. Norbert grows, political race tightens

St. Norbert is one of the fastest-growing constituencies in Winnipeg. The NDP won it in 2011 by only 31 votes. Can they hold on despite a strong PC candidate?
An influx of hundreds of families — thousands of new voters — and a narrow victory for the NDP in the last election have political watchers calling St. Norbert a constituency in play. 2:16

An influx of hundreds of families — thousands of new voters — and a narrow victory for the NDP in the last election have political watchers calling St. Norbert a constituency in play.

St. Norbert has neighbourhoods with mature trees and older homes, but it's also dotted with some of the newest and fastest-growing suburbs in the city.  
St. Norbert NDP candidate Dave Gaudreau is fighting to retain the seat he narrowly won in 2011. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

The Manitoba constituency is home to most of the new Waverley West subdivision. The sprawling development covers 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) in southwest Winnipeg.

New Democrat Dave Gaudreau won the seat by just 31 votes in 2011 and described that election night as "exciting."

He's lived in St. Norbert for more than three decades, exchanging a welder's torch — Gaudreau is a journeyman welder — for a campaign sign just a few weeks before the 2011 election.

Now his constituency has changed — radically.

"The area is just growing. Every day I drive through there is a new home," Gaudreau said.

The NDP candidate said he's meeting "a lot of newcomers" to Canada and Manitoba. As he knocks on doors, the feedback for his party is positive, he said.

"I think people are realizing times are good. Manitoba's economy is good and their homes were built under good times, good circumstances. They are obviously doing well," Gaudreau said.

He added, with a grin, that it might be one of the few municipal constituencies with its own flock of wild turkeys, a character that makes door knocking that much more interesting.

Growth poses challenges for province

But with growth comes the need for services, some of which the province provides, like schools and care homes, and some that it doesn't, such as transit lines, community centres and emergency services. 

Liberal candidate James Bloomfield is a business consultant and a lifelong St. Norbert resident. He picks up on the theme of a lack of services in the area immediately.
Liberal James Bloomfield says the "spunky" Liberals are getting noticed in St. Norbert. (Gary Solilak (CBC News))

"The province has really let the people down, in South Pointe particularly," he said.

Bloomfield points to a lack of commercial services in the huge subdivision and is critical of how the NDP government has planned schools in the area. A new school won't be completed until next year.

Bloomfield admits his party doesn't have the "election machine" that the two other major parties can field. He called the Liberals the "spunky third party" and said the response he gets everywhere is positive.

"Every door I get to is very similar feedback: 'We don't trust the NDP, we have problems with the NDP, and we are afraid of the cuts that the Conservatives are probably going to bring in,'" Bloomfield said.

Mistrust of the NDP comes in part from comments made by Dave Gaudreau in a caucus meeting in March, when he told party members he was getting a lot of negative comments about NDP Leader Greg Selinger while campaigning, said Bloomfield.

"People know about that and that's a concern for them. They don't trust the NDP, and they see the people within the NDP don't trust each other and aren't working together," Bloomfield said.

Progressive Conservative candidate Jon Reyes said he's also hearing doubts about the NDP as he door knocks.

"When you have a premier who has had five cabinet ministers resign, people don't see the stability. They don't see the team," Reyes says.
PC Jon Reyes says he knocked on every door in St. Norbert. (Gary Solilak (CBC News))

Reyes said he also hears from voters about a lack of services in St. Norbert. Better collaboration is needed between the MLA, the area's city councillor and its member of Parliament, he said.

"It's all about teamwork," Reyes said.

The PCs have been cautious about making specific promises in the campaign, but on infrastructure they have pledged a billion dollars in spending. Reyes said some of that will flow to St. Norbert — as long as it meets some criteria.

"It has to be beneficial to Manitoba's economy, ensure that it is a fair and open tender process for municipalities and for construction companies for these contracts," Reyes said.

2011 was a close race

All three of the major party candidates said they have had plenty of support in the constituency as they campaign, but it's hard not to remember how close the race was in 2011.

Political scientist Christopher Adams said much of south Winnipeg was a traditional stronghold for the PCs until Gary Doer's NDP gobbled up a number of seats and the party kept them through the Greg Selinger era.
St. Norbert independent candidate Narinder Kaur Johar couldn't be reached in time for publication of this article. (Sean Kavanagh (CBC News) )
The demographic shift in St. Norbert has made it much more similar to the rest of Winnipeg, he said. 

Adams considers St. Norbert a bellwether constituency in this election and expects the Liberals to have a decent showing in the area.

"[St. Norbert] would be a tough one for the NDP to hold on to, and this would be one of the swing seats," Adams said.

Polling data Adams has looked at suggests the Liberals could pull votes from the NDP in the constituency, he said.

As the constituency gets more affluent and more suburban, its residents focus more on taxes and improving the properties they own, Adams said. Those attitudes can play to the advantage of the Progressive Conservatives, he said.

Independent candidate Narinder Kaur Johar could not be reached in time for publication.


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