The by-election in Kirkfield Park will not alone predict the outcome of next year’s provincial election, but a victory for the Progressive Conservatives could prove that hope is not lost for the incumbent government, while that a defeat could signal that health issues are costing them votes.
The Winnipeg West riding, formerly represented by Conservative cabinet minister Scott Fielding, has always voted Conservative, but recently opinion polls suggest that the fortunes of government still lag behind in Winnipeg.
Under these circumstances, the PCs chose the very high profile Kevin Klein, a former city councilor who recently placed third in the Winnipeg mayoral election.
He says he won’t be afraid to challenge his party if that’s what best serves his constituents – a rare position in partisan politics where candidates are expected to toe the party line.
Royce Koop, a political studies professor at the University of Manitoba, says the bet could pay off.
“Given how unpopular the Conservatives are in Winnipeg, I don’t think Klein’s strategy of saying he’s ready to fight with [Premier] Heather Stefanson is a bad strategy, to be honest,” he said.
The Conservatives are trying to hold on to the riding, which Fielding – who retired in June – won with just over half of the vote cast in 2019. The NDP won 25.6% of the vote, the Liberals won 15 .7 percent support and the Greens gained 8.3 percent.
Klein faces two challengers — the NDP’s Logan Oxenham, a corrections officer, and nurse Rhonda Nichol for the Liberals — who are focusing their campaigns on health care, blaming the Tories for long waits and staffing shortages at the Grace Hospital, which is in the riding .
Dennis Bayomi completes the field as the Green Party candidate in Kirkfield Park.
Other factors that could play into the outcome of the Dec. 13 by-election include slander allegations over Klein’s ties to a disgraced fashion mogul, NDP calls for a strategic vote and a winter date. which could stifle voter turnout.
Klein says he will put voters above the party
As city councilor for much of the constituency from 2018 to 2022, Klein wasn’t afraid to be outspoken when he opposed decisions.
He said he would do the same if elected as an MP. He will first express his reservations behind closed doors, but will speak publicly if he has exhausted other options.
“If you don’t get the answers or if we don’t have those discussions – which I don’t think will happen – then of course you will share them publicly,” Klein said, pointing out that it’s the people of Kirkfield Park. who he would work for, not the PC Party.
Klein also advanced political ideas without party endorsement: a possibly impossible pledge to eliminate parliamentary privilege and increase the number of advanced care paramedic units in Winnipeg.
Koop said Klein was indeed running his own campaign, which is “pretty rare in Canadian politics,” but the political scientist said it could help Klein distance himself from an unpopular party.
But he said if elected, Klein will need to be a team player to get PCs to support his proposed initiatives.
Klein said the NDP and Liberals have no plan to fix the health care system, but the Progressive Conservatives have offered a tangible solution $200 million plan to add 2,000 healthcare professionals “It will work in the short term.”
In the longer term, the increased use of advanced care paramedics would help, he said.
“That’s why I think you need to see me as the right candidate, because I’m not afraid to move forward with these conversations that will bring about change.”
Voters ‘understand what’s at stake here’: Oxenham
The NDP is trying to cluster the anti-government vote around Oxenham.
The party, which held Kirkfield Park from 2007 to 2016, ousted former Liberal supporters at a recent press conference, trying to convince voters that a ballot for the Liberals or the Green Party would not do that guarantee that the PCs would keep the seat.
Koop says the strategic vote advocacy “makes the party look a bit weak”, but Oxenham said he was not worried about his rivals.
“Kirkfield Park voters are smart,” he said.
“They understand what’s at stake here, and they understand that in order for us to defeat the PCs…we must unite.”
Oxenham says the dilapidated health care system drove him to run for office, and it’s the problem he continually hears about from residents.
“A lot of my friends and some family members who actually work within the health care system, kept saying how dire the situation was.”
He was also encouraged to run because of his advocacy work.
A online biography says As the first openly transgender correctional officer in Manitoba, Oxenham helped educate the Department of Justice and police officers on creating an inclusive work environment for transgender staff.
In the Legislative Assembly, the NDP has raised questions about Klein’s history of working with Peter Nygard, suggesting Klein hasn’t fully explained her ties to the former fashion mogul now charged with sexual assault.
Klein denied the allegations.
Oxenham said he would leave it up to voters to decide whether these factors affect their vote, “but my focus is on voters here in Kirkfield Park.”
“Starting to work together” on health care: Nichol
Meanwhile, the Liberals say those who care about health care should vote for the candidate who understands them best.
Rhonda Nichol spent 29 years as a nurse at Grace Hospital, where she worked in oncology, emergency observation, surgery, and long-term medicine, among other departments. She now works as a research and clinical trial prevention nurse at CancerCare Manitoba.
“I would be the best person, I believe, just because of my connection to Grace Hospital. People are ready to talk to me openly and freely, without any fear of repercussions,” she said.
“I think if it was a corrections issue, I’m just going to say right now Logan [Oxenham] would be the person to vote for… [but] I truly believe that I am the best person if we look at health care.
She has seen the health care system go from “running like a well-oiled machine” to undergoing a “slow disappearance”, she said, with institutions scrambling to fill positions.
If elected, the Liberals plan to hold a town hall meeting at the hospital and set up a hotline for frontline workers to reach Nichol directly and confidentially.
“We all want good health care, so why not start working together a little more to get to the bottom of it and really solve it?” she says.
Asked about the split in the anti-government vote with the NDP, Nichol said it’s up to voters to make up their own minds, but she hopes they consider it.
Koop said Nichol’s candidacy appears to have resonated with voters and the party could garner votes from both the PC and the NDP.
“Run to Win”: Bayomi
Dennis Bayomi is the only candidate in the 2019 election who is running again.
The Green Party candidate says he was a “last minute candidate” back then, when he got nearly 9% of the vote, but is “a strong contender” this time around.
“We race to win. We’re not just a name on the ballot,” said the semi-retired IT professional.
He said if elected, addressing the climate emergency would be his top priority. Some ideas would include free public transit, creating a composting program in Winnipeg and offering incentives to purchase electric vehicles.
Bayomi would also advocate for a guaranteed basic income to help lift people out of poverty.
He would also like to see a number of democratic reforms, including an end to winter elections.
He fears voter turnout will be suppressed by an electorate numbed both by time and by a campaign marred by partisan bickering.
Advance voting continues until December 10. Polling stations are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, December 13. More information, including polling locations, is available at Elections Manitoba website.