While Manitobans are focused on soaking up the last bit of summer and preparing their children for school, federal politicians are jockeying for any attention they can grab ahead of the Sept. 20 election.
"It's going to be harder to knock off an incumbent," said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of the University of Manitoba.
He said the lack of large rallies or in-person debates has forced parties to work the phones and reach out through social media.
"If you've got your core supporters and you can mobilize them, that takes you a long way toward victory in this election."
Here’s how the race is shaping up in Manitoba’s 14 ridings.
Most competitive seat
Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley is a mouthful, and it's on the lips of Liberals and Conservatives.
"It's basically a dead heat between the two main parties," Thomas said.
In 2019, the riding swung to the Conservatives: former city councillor Marty Morantz received a 5.2 percentage point lead over Dr. Doug Eyolfson, a Liberal who had won the riding in 2015.
The two are on the ballot again. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau chose a Food Fare in the riding last week for his first Manitoba visit in this campaign, while Tory Leader Erin O’Toole made a stop that same day, on the edge of the riding.
The swing riding historically logs a higher voter turnout than the national average, and voters have opted for a range of politicians, including a decade of Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, a libertarian.
Eyolfson has worked as an ICU physician during the COVID-19 crisis, and is trying to link the province’s disastrous coronavirus outcomes with the federal Conservatives.
Morantz is a moderate Tory, touting his term on the city’s finance committee, and his work advocating for the Grits to tweak COVID-19 supports that had poor uptake among businesses.
Thomas said the riding is part of the Liberals’ push to gain back seats in the regions such as the Prairies.
"Some of their hopes will be pinned on regaining the ridings that they lost on fairly narrow margins, and holding everything else they have from 2019."
The NDP is eyeing Winnipeg North, a historically orange riding that Liberals in the Lamoureux clan have dominated federally and provincially.
The riding has upwardly mobile homeowners in the Maples, on one hand, and cramped apartment blocks in the North End, on the other. It includes large Filipino and Indigenous populations. In the 2016 census, the median income for the riding was $28,784, compared with $34,964 citywide.
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux has held the seat since 2010, after 13 years of New Democrat representation under Judy Wasylycia-Leis. Lamoureux easily won the 2019 election with a 22 percentage point lead.
Before the pandemic, Lamoureux was known for having a weekly hours-long drop-in at a local McDonald’s, and for touting the Liberal’s bump-up to the Canada Child Benefit, which has a huge uptake in the riding.
His daughter, Cindy Lamoureux, has been the MLA for areas that overlap his federal riding since 2016.
"Everybody underestimates Kevin Lamoureux; he outworks everybody and he's shrewder than a lot of people give him credit for," Thomas said.
However, the NDP is pumping in resources for candidate Melissa Chung-Mowat, a Chinese-Métis woman who has worked in non-profits that help immigrants and anti-poverty initiatives. Lamoureux's support for police officers after racially charged incidents could have some voters turn their backs on him.
The Tories’ focus on affordability could take votes from the Liberals and NDP for Conservative candidate Anas Kassem, a political organizer for the federal and provincial party.
Winnipeg South is a bellwether riding, which tends to elect an MP from whichever party forms government. Liberal incumbent Terry Duguid squeaked through with a 3.4 percentage point lead in 2019, and again faces Tory candidate Melanie Maher, a provincial PC staffer who hails from a military background.
"She'll have greater name recognition this time around, but I still think Duguid will prevail," said Thomas, who noted Duguid has gained publicity for advocating for the clean-up of Lake Winnipeg.
"He keeps good connections with constituents, and particularly with stakeholder groups in the community, including the University of Manitoba."
The riding has many newcomers from abroad and other parts of Canada, and it tends to swing based on national trends.
In Winnipeg South, the NDP is running Aiden Kahanovitch, a human resources executive for commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield-Stevenson.
Another race that could get swept up in national trends is the Elmwood-Transcona riding, where NDP incumbent Daniel Blaikie was re-elected in 2019 with an eight percentage point lead.
The riding has a politically active working class, and could opt for Tory candidate Rejeanne Caron, a former police officer who ran unsuccessfully in the St. Boniface-St. Vital riding in 2019. The Liberals have a so-called paper candidate, Sara Mirwaldt, who is a 22-year-old university student.
Winnipeg Centre has the advantage of being the only riding that grafts neatly onto the city sectors surveyed by Probe Research, whose polling suggests NDP incumbent Leah Gazan has had sustained support.
Liberal candidate Paul Ong is a teacher who is involved in local non-profits. Thomas said he will only gain traction if he runs to the left of the Trudeau policy book. The Tories have no candidate in the riding.
Liberal cabinet minister Jim Carr will be particularly hard to unseat in Winnipeg South Centre, Thomas argued, even against Conservative candidate Joyce Bateman, an accountant who held the riding from 2011 to 2015. The NDP candidate is clinical psychologist Julia Riddell.
The other minister, Dan Vandal, will likely keep his St. Boniface-St. Vital seat. He's facing off against Conservative candidate Shola Agboola, a provincial public servant involved in corrections, and NDP candidate Meghan Waters, who is a teacher.
In Kildonan-St. Paul, Raquel Dancho will likely hold onto her seat. The rookie MP was elected in 2019 at age 29 with a 17 percentage point lead over ousted Liberal cabinet minister MaryAnn Mihychuk.
"I don’t think that one’s coming back into the Liberal fold," said Thomas, who argued Dancho has been visible as the Tories’ voice for labour issues.
"I think she's done a pretty good job in that regard, given there's only so much time and space given to an opposition critic from Manitoba."
Dancho’s Liberal opponent, Mary-Jane Bennett, was appointed this month after the original candidate stepped down for health reasons. Bennett's campaign said she's lived in B.C. for the past 15 years, but returns often to her cabin outside Winnipeg, has a temporary home in the city, and will actually move permanently to the riding after the election.
The NDP candidate for the riding is Emily Clark, who the party says works in education technology.
Thomas said all six ridings outside the Perimeter Highway seem like safe bets for incumbents.
The northern riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski has been represented by NDP MP Niki Ashton since 2008, who has been popular despite provocative stances on issues such as the Meng Wanzhou case or democracy in Venezuela.
The Conservatives have nominated Charlotte Larocque, a Métis woman who led the Thompson Chamber of Commerce. The Liberal candidate is Shirley Robinson, a Cross Lake band councillor. Both have argued the region would have better representation if its MP was part of the government.
An interesting contrast of candidates can be found in the Provencher riding, where Conservative incumbent Ted Falk is seeking re-election after loudly opposing abortion, raising doubts about COVID-19 vaccines and refusing to attend Pride parades.
As in the 2019 race, Falk will face Liberal candidate Trevor Kirczenow, a transgender activist who has pushed breastfeeding organizations to recognize trans men who give birth.
More to come
Candidates have until Aug. 30 to submit their nomination papers. The final list of candidates will be set as of Sept. 1.
As of Tuesday morning, just four candidates had been nominated, from the three large parties. That includes Conservative MP James Bezan, who had been rumoured to be seeking leadership of the Manitoba Tory party.
Thomas said voters likely won’t pay attention until after Labour Day, but he doesn't expect dramatic shifts in such a short campaign.
"Debates and campaigns don't change a lot; you might win or lose a few seats based on that."