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Conservatives to hold summer caucus retreat in Winnipeg, want to win back six Manitoba ridings lost in 2015

By Abbas Rana      

The Conservatives have five seats in Manitoba, but they want to win back the six they lost in the last election and want to hear from their new leader and his House leadership team.

New Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, left, will attend his first national summer caucus retreat, as party leader, on Sept. 6-8. Conservative MP David Sweet, is the national Conservative caucus chair. Liberal MP MaryAnn Mihychuk and Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette claim their party will win more seats in Manitoba in 2019 than they did in 2015. The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright
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The federal Conservatives will meet in Winnipeg this summer to plot their fall parliamentary strategy and lay the groundwork to win back the six Manitoba seats they lost in 2015, they say.

“We certainly would like to get them back, there’s no question about it,” said Conservative MP David Sweet (Flamborough-Glanbrook, Ont.), chair of the Conservative caucus, in a phone interview with The Hill Times last week. “Any time you do outreach, it helps. It helps for our supporters to be able to get our message out. It helps Canadians to understand the things that we hold important.”

But they also want to hear from their new party leader and his new House leadership team.

The three-day summer caucus retreat will take place at the Delta Hotel in downtown Winnipeg from Sept. 6-8 in the riding of Winnipeg Centre, currently represented by rookie Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who won the election with 54.5 per cent of the vote and defeated former incumbent NDP MP Pat Martin who held the seat from 1997 to 2015.

The Conservatives have 98 seats right now. Conservative MP Rona Ambrose (Sturgeon River-Parkland, Alta.) resigned her seat on July 4. Conservative MP Denis Lebel (Lac-Saint-Jean, Que.) has also announced he will resign his seat in the coming weeks. The Conservatives, under new leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.), would need to win back the 99 seats they won in 2015, plus another 71 seats to win a majority in 2019.

Mr. Sweet said he and his caucus member will also be sharing with the leadership the top issues they’re hearing about from constituents. Since becoming the party leader, Mr. Scheer has been working on finalizing the names of all shadow cabinet members and is expected to do so by the time the Conservatives meets in Winnipeg.

Conservative MP David Sweet is the chairman of the national Conservative Caucus. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Mr. Scheer, however, announced some members of his shadow cabinet. In a press conference on July 20, Mr. Scheer named Conservative MP Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.) as his deputy leader. Conservative MP Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar, Man.) and Chris Warkentin (Grande-Prairie-Mackenzie, Alta.) are keeping their positions as House leader and deputy House leader, respectively, and Conservative MP Mark Strahl (Chilliwack-Hope, B.C.) was appointed the party’s whip. Mr. Scheer has also appointed Conservative MP Alain Rayes (Richmond-Arthabaska, Que.) as his Quebec lieutenant.

“We need to plan our strategy for coming back to the House,” said Mr. Sweet. “The leader wants to hear from all caucus members about what they’ve been hearing on the ground from our constituents in their ridings, particularly, for us now with our new leadership team. The caucus is going to want to hear form the new members in the Andrew Scheer’s leadership team.”

In the 2015 election, Conservatives lost five seats in Manitoba to the Liberals and one to the NDP. The Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) Liberals won seven seats in the province, the Conservatives five, and the NDP two.

In 2011, the Stephen Harper Conservatives won 11 seats in Manitoba, the Liberals one and the NDP carried two seats.

The five Liberal MPs who won the ridings previously held by the Conservatives are: Doug Eyolfson (Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, Man.), MaryAnn Mihychuk (Kildonan-St. Paul, Man.), Dan Vandal (Saint Boniface-Saint Vital, Man.), Terry Duguid (Winnipeg South, Man.), and Jim Carr (Winnipeg South Centre, Man.). The NDP compensated for their one seat loss in the province by winning Elmwood-Transcona where rookie NDP MP Daniel Blaikie defeated incumbent Conservative MP Lawrence Toet.

In the last election, the Liberals won 184 seats across the country, the Conservatives 99, the NDP 44, Bloc 10, and the Green Party one seat. To win a majority government, the winning party needed 170 seats. The Liberals received 6.9 million or 39.5 per cent of the votes; the Conservatives 5.6 million or 31.9 per cent; the NDP 3.4 million or 19.7 per cent; the Bloc 821,144 or 4.7 per cent; and the Green Party 602,944 or 3.4 per cent.

In an interview with The Hill Times, Ms. Mihychuk, who won her riding by a margin of 2.8 per cent, said she knew that the Conservatives would target her riding in 2019. But, she said, they will be “sorely disappointed” because she “hates to lose” and has been door knocking since she got elected in 2015. This summer, she said, she has knocked on about 1,800 doors. Ms. Mihychuk said her constituency office has been providing “excellent” service to constituents and “will continue to do that.”

Rookie Liberal MP MaryAnn Mihychuk. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

“They’re going to be extremely disappointed, I hate losing,” said Ms. Mihychuk, a former Trudeau cabinet minister. “I welcome the Conservative caucus, but they will be sorely disappointed.”

Prior to the last election, former Conservative MP Joy Smith carried this riding in four elections. She did not seek re-election in 2015. In the 2011 election, Ms. Smith won by a margin of 28 per cent.

In addition to defending the ridings the Liberals won in the province, Ms. Mihychuk said, her party would target at least two ridings in 2019. She pointed out that her party is working on the ridings of Elmwood-Transcona currently represented by NDP MP Daniel Blaikie and Churchill Keewatinook Aski held by NDP MP and leadership candidate Niki Ashton. Mr. Blaikie won his riding by a margin of 0.1 per cent of the vote and Ms. Ashton by three per cent. Mr. Blaikie’s father Bill Blaikie represented Elmwood-Transcona for 29 years between 1979 and 2008.

“We’re preparing to increase the number of seats that the Liberals will hold in Manitoba,” said Ms. Mihychuk. “Real opportunities are available and we’re working hard in those ridings.”

Mr. Ouellette, in an interview with The Hill Times, welcomed the Conservative Party’s decision to hold the caucus retreat in Winnipeg because he said it will contribute money into the local economy. He said his riding is one of the poorest in the country and hoped that Conservative MPs will meet local people to understand the riding’s the social and economic issues.

Mr. Ouellette said the Conservatives can try, but given the current political situation, he doesn’t think they can win any of the ridings they lost in 2015.

“I don’t know if they can win any of them right now,” said Mr. Ouellette. “Manitobans seem pretty satisfied with the change that we’ve brought in the federal government.”

Mr. Ouellette also said Liberals will target the two ridings that the NDP currently holds in the province, Ms. Ashton’s and Mr. Blaikie’s. Mr. Blaikie won the riding by 61 votes or with 34.1 per cent of the vote.

Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette won his riding in the last election besting veteran NDP MP Pat Martin. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia.

“I think Niki Ashton’s riding is certainly up for grabs, I think Daniel’s as well,” Mr. Ouellette said. “Just because you run for the leadership doesn’t mean it’s going to give you the boost you need.”

Mr. Blaikie was not available for an interview last week, but Ms. Ashton in a written statement said that the Liberals targeted her riding in the past, but were unsuccessful. Instead, she said, her vote count went up. In 2015, Ms. Ashton won 13,487 or 45 per cent of the vote, the Liberal candidate Rebecca Chartrand 12,575 or 42 per cent and the Conservative candidate Kyle Mirecki won 3,090 or10.3 per cent of the votes. In 2011, Ms. Ashton garnered 10,262 or 51.1 per cent of the votes, the Conservatives 5,256 or 26.2 per cent, and the Liberals 4,087 or 20.4 per cent.

“The Liberals have targeted the seat during the last election,” said Ms. Ashton. “In my experience, we beat the Liberals on the ground and on their message of change. Despite the challenging last election, we were able to increase our vote share significantly. Our message at home was that Canadians deserve a clear progressive choice and someone who will stand up for them.”

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