Indigenous

Liberal win in northern Manitoba: a hard road for rookie candidate

She spent hours driving on ice roads and at times even used a snowmobile, but rookie Liberal candidate Judy Klassen managed to unseat long-time NDP MLA Eric Robinson in the northern Manitoba constituency of Keewatinook.

Judy Klassen described her campaign as 'heartbreaking and amazing at the same time'

Judy Klassen celebrates with her parents after the election results were announced. (Warryn Klassen)

She spent hours driving on ice roads and at times even used a snowmobile on the campaign trail.

Judy Klassen ran a campaign with only four volunteers, yet managed to visit many communities in her constituency — and every single First Nation reserve. 

"There was 14 of them. We hit the ice roads the day that they opened," Klassen said. 

She slept in the campaign truck in communities that had no hotels.

Klassen, from St. Theresa Point, is a rookie Liberal candidate and was considered an underdog. But she managed to unseat long-time NDP MLA Eric Robinson in the northern Manitoba constituency of Keewatinook.

During her victory speech, Klassen thanked Robinson saying "he has served our people very well."

"My goal is to always help the people and when I got offered the candidacy for the Liberals, I thought what better way to help more people," she said.

Klassen spent election night surrounded by family and friends. The crowd broke into cheers each time results showed her lead growing over Robinson.  

"My husband came up to the room, I had gone up to the hotel room to collect my thoughts to centre myself. He came up there and told me it was official that I had won and we shared a moment, we shared a hug, just looked into each others eyes and realized that our lives would be forever changed," said Klassen.

Campaign 'heartbreaking and amazing'

Klassen described her campaign as "heartbreaking and amazing at the same time."

Keewatinook Liberal MLA Judy Klassen door knocking in Wasagamack First Nation. (Facebook/Judy Klassen)
"Heartbreaking because we have so many issues in all of the reserves. There was a lot of issues that each individual community faces, yet collectively, we all struggle," said Klassen.

She heard about the suicide crisis, health worries and poverty. 

"When I was going to my own First Nation, I was driving down [the ice road]. I took a wrong turn and ended up going through the ice at about three in the morning. I woke up my co-driver in a complete panic, totally in the wrong spot, literally sitting in water."



A junior accountant by trade, Klassen has spent much of her life in the north. During her victory speech, Klassen said, "I know what the northern remote issues are."

"I stayed in St. Theresa Point up until I was 15. I had to leave the community because we had no high school, so I had to leave for residential school. I went three years to Thompson, Manitoba, and I did my final year at Teulon [both residential schools] where I graduated in 91," she told CBC.

Klassen dedicated the win to her niece, Nikki Harper, who committed suicide while she was on the campaign trail.

"During my campaign, we lost Nikki. My brother [Nikki's dad] is diabetic. Up north, the dialysis machines are so overwhelmed. So we had to come out to Winnipeg, living in and out of hotels for the past two-and-a-half years. The family was breaking apart. She had just turned 18 and made the wrong choice due to alcohol. She lost hope," said Klassen.

Klassen knows what she is up against in the Keewatinook constituency.

"There are so many issues. I can't solve every problem, but I think that by bringing education, bringing hope, inspiring people, that in itself will inspire everyone to make change," she said.

With files from CBC News.

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