Every vote counts in St. Vital, where tight race expected after narrow PC win in 2016

The candidates vying to become the next MLA in Winnipeg's St. Vital constituency are so invested in the race, they'll campaign in the midst of life's biggest milestones — and dig deep into their own pockets. 

PCs' Colleen Mayer once again faces NDP's Jamie Moses, after 2016 election determined by fewer than 400 votes

St. Vital NDP candidate Jamie Moses canvasses for support, alongside former MLA Nancy Allan, on Kingston Crescent. A tight race is expected in St. Vital, a seat the Progressive Conservatives won in 2016 by only 398 votes. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The candidates vying to become the next MLA in St. Vital are so invested in the race, they'll campaign in the midst of some big life milestones — and dig deep into their own pockets. 

The incumbent, Progressive Conservative Colleen Mayer, was toiling away in her campaign office this week when her team diverted her attention long enough to surprise her with a birthday cake. 

Then there's Jamie Moses, the NDP's candidate, who spent an anniversary date with his wife knocking on doors.

And Liberal Jeffrey Anderson has put his money where his mouth is, donating the maximum $5,000 allowed to his campaign.

Rematch will go down to the wire

The dedication from the candidates for the three largest parties is telling — the Winnipeg constituency is expected to be one of the most competitive election races in the Sept. 10 Manitoba election.

There are six candidates running in St. Vital. Elizabeth Dickson, who was not available for an interview, is running for the Green Party, while David Sutherland is on the ballot for Manitoba First and Baljeet Sharma is an independent candidate.

The main storyline, though, will be another showdown between Mayer and Moses.

In 2016, Mayer — a former city councillor assistant and school trustee — took back the southeastern Winnipeg seat for the Progressive Conservatives by just under 400 votes over the NDP's Moses, a software company employee who has worked for Investors Group and the Canadian Wheat Board.

"It's always going to be a swing riding," Mayer said from her campaign office on St. Mary's Road, where her impromptu 48th birthday party took place.

"I'm really honoured that St. Vital gave me that opportunity three-and-a-half years ago. I'm going to continue to work and strive for that," she said. "I wouldn't have taken this job if it was easy."

Colleen Mayer, Progressive Conservative candidate in St. Vital, is proud of making herself accessible to voters during her first term as MLA. (Ian Froese/CBC)

And it won't be easy to keep.

The New Democrats launched their 2019 campaign at St. Vital Park in August, with leader Wab Kinew saying the NDP's path to victory runs through the riding.

Moses has name recognition in his corner, with former St. Vital MLA Nancy Allan volunteering. She held the riding from 1999 until her retirement in 2016, when she began mentoring Moses to take over.

The Progressive Conservatives are putting up their own fight.

When PC supporters rallied for a pre-election door-knocking blitz early this year, party leader Brian Pallister personally chose to visit homes in St. Vital. The party's campaign manager, David McLaughlin, has spent time canvassing in the riding this week, his Twitter account notes.

'I knew I had a voice:' Mayer

Mayer said accomplishments she's proud of during her time in office include the 60 daycare spaces that will be added at René Deleurme Centre by the end of the year, and her participation in community events — not only around election time.

She envisioned herself as more of a backroom operative before she ran for office, but that's changed.

"I didn't see myself as the leader, but you know what, I knew that I had a voice and I knew enough about my community that I could help carry that voice and make those decisions to help them," Mayer said.

She was promoted from the back bench to cabinet in August 2018 to oversee Crown corporations — a problematic area for the Tories after the exodus of most of Manitoba Hydro's board earlier that year, and a more recent spat between insurance brokers and Manitoba Public Insurance.

When questioned about her handling of the portfolio, Mayer preferred to speak instead about the importance of ensuring Crown corporations provide affordable services.

Her main challenger, Moses, is focused on health care.

"I'm running because, with a family with two kids, the things I'm concerned about are making sure they have good, accessible, quality health care," he said.

The Tories went ahead with a controversial reform of the health-care system during their first term, including the consolidation of emergency care from six Winnipeg hospitals to three. The NDP is promising to reopen two of those shuttered emergency rooms and hire more nurses if elected on Sept. 10.

Jamie Moses has been canvassing for months as he tries to take back St. Vital for the New Democrats. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Moses said the main difference between the 2016 campaign and this year's is that voters are noticing cuts and closures under the Progressive Conservatives for themselves.

"Every vote is going to matter no matter where you are in the province, but especially in St. Vital," Moses said. Like Mayer, he's becoming known around the community, waving at drivers during a recent rush hour. 

"We want to talk and connect with every voter we can to make sure that we can earn their vote."

For this election, St. Vital's boundaries have shifted west, past Dunkirk Drive to encompass homes hugging the Red River. Many polls in that area went to the Progressive Conservatives in the last election, a CBC analysis shows, but opponents say the seat is in play over frustration with the Pallister government.

Swing riding has gone red

Recent polling suggests the PCs and NDP are neck-and-neck in Winnipeg, which demonstrates the importance of swing ridings like St. Vital, which has flipped between two parties for decades — except in 1988, when the Liberals took it.

The party's candidate in this election — Jeffrey Anderson — says he shouldn't be counted out.

Voters are tired of picking between two political parties that aren't making life better, he said — pointing to NDP in-fighting that saw former premier Greg Selinger's leadership challenged before the 2016 election as an example.

"When I'm out at the doors and I'm talking to people, I'm constantly reminding them, actually, that it was the in-fighting of the NDP and the doubling of our debt which led to an individual like Mr. Pallister taking power."

He experienced a different kind of fighting during this campaign, though, when he says he was assaulted while canvassing.

St. Vital Liberal candidate Jeffrey Anderson says he shouldn't be counted out. St. Vital went to the Liberals in 1988. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Anderson said he initially ran for office because of his own desire to implement change, but he's no longer running for only himself.

In his previous job as a civil servant in information technology, he says he got a first-hand view of chaos that followed top-down decisions from the PC government.

He thinks of the paramedic he met who couldn't bring a cardiac patient into a hospital because of overcrowding, or the nurse of 40 years who hates her job because of the pressure. 

"You start absorbing all of these stories," he said. "The reality is, I feel like I'm carrying all these people on my back now."

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Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at

With a file from Jacques Marcoux