Northern Manitoba Liberal MLA Judy Klassen confirmed what has been rumoured since early March by announcing April 11 that she intends to seek the federal Liberal nomination in the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding and take on incumbent NDP MP Niki Ashton.
“Justin Trudeau and the federal government have made much-needed investments into Truth and Reconciliation initiatives as well as significant investments in the Northern Manitoba economy,” said Klassen in a press release. “Manitoba’s North needs these investments more than ever, and Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals are the only choice to ensure that the North continues to see this much-needed investment and work needed for Truth and Reconciliation within our Indigenous communities.”
Originally from the fly-in northeastern Manitoba First Nation of St. Theresa Point in the Island Lake area, Klassen was elected in as Keewatinook MLA in 2016, defeating former NDP MLA Eric Robinson as one of three successful Liberal candidates in the election that brought Premier Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government into power, breaking a 17-year hold on government by the provincial NDP.
Klassen’s press release announcing her intent to jump to federal politics said that she is known by some of her Manitoba legislature peers as the “Dragon Slayer” for her defeat of the long-time MLA and says she is up for the challenge of taking on Ashton, who has represented Churchill and then Churchill-Keewatinook Aski since 2008, though her margin of victory shrank considerably in the last election from the previous one. Ashton beat Liberal candidate Rebecca Chartrand, who doesn’t live in Northern Manitoba, by fewer than 1,000 votes in the 2015 federal election, while she beat Conservative candidate Wally Daudrich from Churchill by 5,000 votes in the 2011 election.
“This will be a challenging race, but I have the complete support of my community and my family," Klassen said. "The continued commitment to the North by Justin Trudeau and the federal government is crucial in both achieving more Truth and Reconciliation initiatives as well as building our northern economy. The time of Ashton family representation in the North is over, and now is the time for representation and leadership that can get results for the North.”
The Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding is 75 per cent Indigenous and many of its First Nations are accessible only by air or by winter roads.
Klassen’s move to the federal realm will put the Manitoba Liberal Party at risk of losing official party status, which it just regained last summer for the first time since 1995 when party leader Dougald Lamont won a byelection in Winnipeg’s St. Boniface riding to give the party four seats.
River Heights MLA Jon Gerrard and Burrows MLA Cindy Lamoureux are the Manitoba Liberals’ other MLAs.
Official party status gives parties access to funding, research staff and a guaranteed presence during Question Period and on committees.
Lamont told the Canadian Press in March that he knew about Klassen’s possible departure but expected that he would have his party’s full complement of MLAs at election time, because he believed the PC government would call it in the spring.