LORETTE — Manitoba New Democrats made their first official campaign stop outside city limits Tuesday, pledging millions for a new rural recreation complex in an effort to win a riding currently held by the Tories.
On Tuesday, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said, if elected, his government would cover the remaining $5 million in costs required to replace the Rural Municipality of Taché’s nearly six-decades-old community complex in Lorette with a new arena/library recreation centre.
Lorette, some 20 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, is within the borders of Dawson Trail, an electoral district held by the Progressive Conservatives since 2016.
“Unless the provincial government steps forward, there’s going to be a $5-million shortfall and they’re going to have to turn to you the local ratepayer to foot the bill,” Kinew told supporters gathered outside the arena. “We don’t think that’s right for a piece of infrastructure this important and that’s why we’re making this commitment here today.”
The party leader was joined by Dawson Trail candidate Chris Wiebe and Taché Mayor Armand Poirier, who told the gathered community volunteers and RM councillors if an NDP government is elected Oct. 3, the “project will not be compromised and (will) proceed as planned.”
The provincial riding that includes the communities of Ste. Anne, Landmark, Grande Pointe, Giroux, Hazelridge and Anola was created by redistribution in 2008 from parts of LaVerendrye and the now-defunct Morris.
Longtime NDP cabinet minister Ron Lemieux represented LaVerendrye from 1999-2011 and Dawson Trail from 2011-16.
After Lemieux decided not to seek re-election, Bob Lagasse won Dawson Trail for the PCs with 53 per cent of the vote. Lagasse was re-elected in 2019, with 55 per cent of the vote; the Liberals secured 23 per cent and the NDP 22 per cent.
The Liberals aren’t running a candidate in Dawson Trail this time around. Lagasse is again carrying the Tory banner. Marcel Broesky is the Green party candidate.
“This is a bellwether constituency — it’s flipped back and forth,” Wiebe said after Tuesday’s event.
The resident of Lorette and University of Winnipeg chemistry and physics professor is trying to flip it back to the NDP. “I’ve been knocking on doors for a year-and-a-half. I’ve knocked on thousands of doors.”
Replacing the old arena is something area residents have desired for years, Wiebe said. “Pieces of the roof are falling off on the ice. It’s not safe to use anymore.”
The PCs, however, dismissed the arena funding promise.
“Voters of Dawson Trail can’t trust an NDP who had 17 years to provide funding for this project and did nothing,” spokesman Shannon Martin said in a statement, referring to the rival party’s time in power from 1999 to 2016.
In January, Premier Heather Stefanson announced her Tory government would contribute $3.6 million toward the new rec centre, with Ottawa providing $4.4 million and the RM of Taché contributing more than $2.9 million towards the $11-million project.
“Once again, Wab Kinew is promising to do something that our PC team has already done — and something he voted against (as leader of the Opposition),” the PC statement said. “They fail to mention that they promised this as government and didn’t deliver.”
The long-awaited project’s costs have soared with inflation and supply chain issues, Taché’s mayor said Tuesday.
Without the injection of additional funds, the RM would have to look at scaling back plans and raising taxes to cover the bill, Poirier said. “It’s gone up significantly.”
The community of Lorette alone has raised $1.5 million and the RM “is committing a lot,” Poirier added.
The RM had gone back to the province to apply for more funding, but was told there were too many applications and the request wasn’t granted, the mayor said.
Taché leadership is waiting for the outcome of the provincial election before deciding next steps, he said.
Kinew said the $5-million promise isn’t to win votes in Dawson Trail but is just one of many the NDP has made in rural Manitoba since the unofficial start of the campaign in early August.
“It’s about bringing Manitobans together, so we can enjoy life, so we can cheer on the kids or the grandkids and so we can have a healthy lifestyle,” the Fort Rouge candidate said.
The NDP is working to win back voters in the eastern part of the province, Kinew added. “I’m very proud to come now to a part of Manitoba that has a very strong NDP tradition, going back to Ed Schreyer.”
Schreyer, who served as Manitoba premier (1969-77) and governor general of Canada (1979-84), was first elected as the MLA for the now-defunct Brokenhead district in 1958.
“One of my goals as leader of the Manitoba NDP is to make this the party of the working class once again — the party of the average person… that’s relevant in every community across Manitoba,” Kinew said.
“We’re going to put in the time, we’re going to put in the work and we’re going to build the relationships to make that a reality going into the future.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.