Could someone living in southern Manitoba adequately represent northern Manitoba in the House of Commons?
With three of five MP candidates for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski residing in Winnipeg, well outside of the riding, that’s a question voters are now forced to explore.
NDP incumbent Niki Ashton, who does live in the riding (Thompson), has attempted to make political hay of the situation.
“I realize that some
candidates live in Winnipeg, and attending a debate in our North means coming into the riding,” she said in a recent news release that challenged the other candidates to a public debate.
The reality is that northern Manitoba’s next MP will either be Ashton or someone living in Winnipeg. The only other candidate who lives in the riding, the Green Party’s August Hastmann, has zero chance of winning.
Of the three Winnipeg-based candidates – Conservative Kyle Mirecki, Libertarian Zachary Linnick and Liberal Rebecca Chartrand – only Chartrand appears to have a legitimate shot at victory.
According to Maclean’s, Chartrand visited most of the riding’s reserves over the summer in a bid to foster support. Internal Liberal polling now has her trailing Ashton by just three points, the magazine reports.
Three points isn’t very much. And if the NDP continues to bleed support at the national level, the anti-Conservative vote in Churchill-Keewatinook Aski could coalesce around Chartrand and the Liberals.
The NDP camp will argue that a candidate who doesn’t actually live in northern Manitoba has no hope of understanding the issues facing the riding and giving proper voice to them in Ottawa.
Chartrand would always have the option of moving north if she won, of course, but let’s suppose a committed southerner became our MP. It may look bad on paper, but how much would it matter?
First, let’s note that the world has never been as interconnected as it is now. Communication is instant and effortless, and views are increasingly expressed on Facebook and Twitter rather than traditional face-to-face meetings or public forums.
But there’s a bigger picture here. Modern MPs are little more than automated sets of legs that stand up to vote “yay” or “nay” based on what their party collectively decides (or what their party leader tells them to do). The impact on constituents in specific ridings is hardly at the forefront of the process.
Ashton, for example, voted against Harper government budgets that were actually fairly generous to Flin Flon. Indeed the feds have pumped millions of dollars into the community, with the water treatment plant and Northern Manitoba Mining Academy among the high-profile beneficiaries.
I’m not suggesting Ashton opposed federal dollars for those projects. But a less party-centric and more nuanced view of some of the Harper budgets was possible, something like: “It’s not everything that I want in a budget, but it pumps big bucks into my riding and that’s a good thing.”
Of course nuance is not something politicians generally grasp. You’re either good or you’re bad. As difficult as it is to imagine Ashton admitting the Conservatives did something good for northern Manitoba, it’s equally challenging to envision northern Saskatchewan MP Rob Clarke, a Conservative, chatting with opposition leaders and declaring, “That makes sense for my riding and you have my support!”
Does any of this change if your MP lives outside of your riding? Does it change if at the end of a tour of visiting constituents, he or she returns to a home in one section of Manitoba instead of the other?
Not really. Which is precisely why a candidate who lives in Winnipeg, such as Chartrand, can be competitive. Place of residence isn’t the deal-breaker it might once have been.
If all we’re doing is voting for obedient party mouthpieces, who cares where they live?
Local Angle is published on Fridays.