A late November byelection date has sparked concern from candidates about voter turnout.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Sunday that federal byelections in Brandon-Souris, Provencher, Toronto-Centre and the Quebec riding of Bourassa will held on Nov. 25.
Brandon-Souris voter turnout was 58 per cent in the last federal election in May 2011. According to Statistics Canada, the riding has a population of about 85,000 based on 2006 census numbers.
Candidates representing opposition parties in this byelection say the timing of this vote — near the holidays and with bad weather a possibility — could result in fewer people heading to the polls.
"By holding an election on the Prairies at the time of year we’re going to be doing it, there will be lower voter turnout," said NDP candidate Cory Szczepanski, president of the Brandon Labour Council.
"It’s not going to help," said Liberal Rolf Dinsdale, son of former longtime local Conservative MP Walter Dinsdale. "We’d like to see as good a turnout as possible, but the later you get and the closer you get to the holidays, the less interested in politics people will be."
With lingering questions surrounding the Conservatives’ nomination process gaining national media attention, the opposition parties believe they have chance to break through in what has historically been a Tory stronghold.
The Liberal party has set its sights on Brandon-Souris, with leader Justin Trudeau making two visits recently. He could return during the next four weeks of campaigning.
"It’s a great opportunity to make a breakthrough," Dinsdale said, "but there’s also a federal election shortly, so we’re really looking at this as a start of a longer push. But we hope to win now."
Acclaimed Conservative candidate Larry Maguire, who officially stepped down as Arthur-Virden MLA, has put the federal government’s recently announced European Union trade agreement front and centre of his campaign in hopes of continuing the Brandon-Souris Tory dynasty.
"A $12-billion boost to the Canadian economy and cattle farmers and grain farmers that I’ve been talking to around here think this is one of the best agreements they have ever seen and anyone exporting products is going to benefit from this," he said.
The historic agreement, which Maguire said will benefit Manitobans, will provide Canada with preferential market access to the EU’s more than 500 million consumers, according to the PMO.
Maguire and the Conservatives have snubbed the issue after nomination applications submitted by former political staffer Chris Kennedy and Brandon deputy mayor Len Isleifson were rejected by the party.
Shelly Glover, the Conservative MP for Saint Boniface, who was in town recently to support Maguire, said the issue was "a load of crap" and newspapers are "making up this story."
Dinsdale said he doesn’t want to "indulge in cheap political attacks" and, like Maguire, would like to steer the conversation toward the economy and other larger issues, but added the Tories’ denial of two nominees remains an issue for voters.
Parliamentary hopefuls said the Tories’ lack of a nomination meeting will no doubt be a key offensive tactic, but the most pointed criticism will likely come from the Senate scandal in Ottawa, with candidates highlighting the ongoing storm that surrounds the expenses of embattled senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau and former Liberal senator Mac Harb.
"There’s so many different scandals with the Harper government that it’s hard to pick and choose which one I might highlight," Szczepanski said.
"We’re looking forward to exchanging ideas with the other parties and get our message out there. We’re glad the election has finally been called."
Green Party of Canada candidate and small business owner David Neufeld, whose party also sent its leader Elizabeth May to the Wheat City recently, said he’s "in it to win it" despite the party’s third-place finish — ahead of the Liberals — with five per cent of the vote in 2011.
"We’re concerned about the way the Conservatives are running the country and how they’re disrespecting democratic processes," he said.
"We have an economy that’s quite shallow. It’s bringing us quite good income in our riding right now, through oil, wheat, oilseeds, light industry, but we are encouraging voters to consider the long term. The booms and busts are always happening in the economy."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 21, 2013