WINNIPEG — Anita Neville, the sitting Liberal MP for Winnipeg South Centre, has started he defence of her seat with a counterattack against Conservative charges that she’s “past her expiry date.”
The statement, which some considered to be a slur against older people, was issued on the opening day of the campaign by Winnipeg MP Shelley Glover (Conservative-St. Boniface). Glover later rejected calls to apologize, saying she wasn’t referring to the 68-year-old Neville’s age but to her performance as an MP.
“It’s typical of the Conservative party when they don’t have anything real or substantive to say to resort to name-calling and personal attacks,” said Neville, Western Canada’s only Jewish MP and a strong supporter of Israel. “It’s typical of the party and of Shelley.”
Neville added that she’s been hearing a lot of jokes about the remark on the campaign trail. “I was visiting a seniors group, and a 97-year-old woman asked me if I was past my expiry date,” she said.
The governing Conservatives have been targeting Winnipeg South Centre for the past three elections without success, and the odds of Neville going down to defeat this time are slim.
In addition to her own constituency work, there are two factors working strongly in her favour. First, the riding has been solidly Liberal ever since it was created in 1987. Former foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy represented Winnipeg South Centre from 1987 until his retirement in 2000.
Neville, a longtime chair of Winnipeg School Division No. 1, was first elected to Parliament in the riding in 2000. She easily won re-election in 2004, 2006 and 2008. The closest contest was the last one, when she beat Tory candidate and popular former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Trevor Kennard by just over 2,000 votes.
Another factor that’s likely to make Neville’s re-election relatively easy is the disarray in Winnipeg South Centre’s Conservative ranks.
The Tories had nominated Raymond Hall, a former airline pilot, to carry the party colours a couple of years ago. But he quit the race on the eve of the election. His last-minute replacement is Joyce Bateman, who had been a Liberal until just recently and who, like Neville, has served as a Winnipeg school trustee.
“I’m working hard and have a good team around me,” Neville said. “We are optimistic.
“It seems that everywhere I go, I am hearing people saying that we have to get rid of [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper.”
The riding has 59,444 voting-age residents, with pockets of significant Jewish population.
There’s one other Jewish candidate running in Winnipeg: Alon Weinberg is carrying the Green Party banner in Kildonan St.Paul, a riding that incorporates the West Kildonan and Garden City neighbourhoods, which still have a Jewish population of a couple of thousand.
The northwest Winnipeg riding was created in 2004 and has been won handily by Conservative Joy Smith in the past three elections.
While Smith is a member of the Canada-Israel Parliamentary Group, she also belongs to the Ukrainian-Canadian Parliamentary Group and recently lent her voice to the campaign by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association opposing a stand-alone Holocaust gallery at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, now under construction in Winnipeg.
Weinberg is the founder of the AdaMah’nitoba Project, a Jewish ecology group. He has a profile in the Jewish community as a peace activist and a strong interest in studying Jewish and other spiritual traditions.
Last fall, he helped organize Winnipeg’s first Nahmanifest!, a celebration of the life of Rab Nahman of Bratslav.
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