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Thompson byelection date just set but NDP candidate in mid-campaign mode

Thompson NDP candidate Eric Redhead has been to five outlying communities already with plans to visit half-a-dozen more before June 7
eric redhead campaign launch may 11 2022
From left to right, Thompson NDP candidate Eric Redhead, Jon Hodder-Szyszlo, Churchill Keewatinook-Aski MP Niki Ashton, and campaign manager Blair Hudson outside Redhead’s campaign headquarters May 11.

The writ may just have dropped but the NDP candidate hoping to succeed the late Danielle Adams as Thompson MLA feels more like he’s halfway through a campaign.

On May 10, Premier Heather Stefanson announced Tuesday, June 7 as the date of a Thompson byelection to vote in the successor to Adams, who died in a highway crash between Ponton and Grand Rapids last December.

To Eric Redhead, the campaign has been on for more than two weeks since he was officially nominated as the NDP candidate on April 23, even if the official launch didn’t come until May 11.

“It was a relief to finally have the election called,” Redhead told the Thompson Citizen. Yesterday was the last day the byelection date could be announced without the provincial government running afoul of its own election law. “The PCs waited till the very last minute to call this election.”

The day before the writ was dropped, the provincial government and PC MLAs made a flurry of spending announcements in Thompson, committing $5 million towards a pool to replace the Norplex Pool, which was permanently closed over three years ago, before the Progressive Conservatives were re-elected for a second term.

“It took an election for them to look north,” said Redhead. “I think if there wasn’t an election being called, we wouldn’t see these types of investments.”

Redhead has already knocked on doors in several of the communities that make up the Thompson riding, including the Hub of the North itself, where the candidate was born and raised and worked in health care, along with Gillam, Fox Lake, Split Lake, Nelson House and Wabowden. In the four weeks leading up to the byelection, he plans to make stops in Churchill, York Landing, Pikwitonei, Thicket Portage, Ilford and Churchill as well.

“We’re covering most every town in the riding for sure,” Redhead said.

Meeting voters, letting them know what you stand for and, most importantly, encouraging them to get out to a polling station and vote on June 7, or in advance polls from May 28 to June 4, is vital in a byelection campaign, as turnout is usually lower than in a general election. 

Niki Ashton, who represents Northern Manitoba as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa, was present for Redhead’s campaign launch and says she knows firsthand from working with him during the COVID-19 pandemic when he was chief of Shamattawa First Nation, that the candidate knows how to spur government to action.

“He knows the struggles that our specific region has faced as a result of the devastating cuts and privatization of the Pallister government,” said Ashton, who Adams served as an assistant for many years before getting elected herself and whose father Steve was Thompson’s MLA from 1981 to 2016.

Issues concerning constituents Redhead’s talked to include health care — specifically the temporary closures of some facilities in the region due to lack of staff during the pandemic and the high number of vacant positions for nurses in Thompson and other communities — as well as highways, the budget for which has been frozen, and which the provincial government underspent on in the past year.

“These critical services that matter to our communities unfortunately have been impacted in very, very negative ways in recent years by the PC government,” Ashton said.

“They make all these promises but they never seem to spend what they commit,” Redhead says.

The race is looking like a two-candidate contest, with PC candidate Charlotte Larocque the only other declared candidate and the Manitoba Liberals having said months ago that they wouldn’t field a representative, but Redhead says that doesn’t change his approach.

He says he gets recognized by many people when he’s out knocking on doors, which is encouraging.

“They’re very excited to see me as the candidate, which is good. It’s reassuring.”

But regardless of the reception Redhead receives, he intends to continue campaigning as if he were a long shot.

“We’re committed to victory here and keeping the seat orange,” he says.

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