Manitoba's largest federal riding held by NDP being challenged by new candidate

The largest federal riding in the province is being challenged by a new candidate.

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski covers the entire top half of Manitoba – a lot of ground to cover for candidates, but NDP incumbent Niki Ashton is no stranger to the area.

“We’ve done a lot of work with communities here in our part of the country over the years, and a lot of work during the COVID-19 crisis, and we’ve certainly heard a lot of recognition and appreciation," she said.

Ashton has held the seat for the NDP since 2008.

She said there is a housing crisis for remote First Nation communities in her riding, which has led to severe overcrowding in homes and uninhabitable conditions.

“One of the key factors that has contributed to the spread of COVID-19, and to particular outbreaks in communities like Shamattawa and Red Sucker Lake is because of the housing situation, and we need to see the federal government take that seriously," Ashton said.

Kelly Saunders, an associate professor of political science at Brandon University, said this riding could potentially change hands this election.

She said Liberal candidate Shirley Robinson is gaining a lot of support from the riding, and has been endorsed by First Nations leaders in the province, including Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

“Ms. Robinson is a Cree woman from Cross Lake, a former band councillor, so she has a lot of great political skills and community relationships that she’s bringing to her candidacy," Saunders said.

Saunders said the riding has a large Indigenous population, and there is a lot of mining and steel work going on in the area.

“(The unions) are where Niki Ashton and the NDP support really draws from, so it’s going to go Indigenous vote and it’s going to go union vote, that’s where you’re really going to see the battle between the NDP and the Liberals play out," she said.

Liberal candidate Shirley Robinson said she believes she would be a strong voice for northern Manitobans.

“My heart is for my people in this riding, and it’s not specifically Indigenous, it’s everyone in this riding – they deserve a true voice," Robinson said.

If elected, Robinson has a lot she wants to accomplish, including pushing for progress in the 94 calls to action form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“Our infrastructure, the all-weather roads, our railway, and of course our very poor internet service," she said.

There are three other candidates in the race for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, including Conservative candidate Charlotte Larocque, Green party candidate Ralph McLean, and Dylan Young with the People’s Party of Canada.

Manitobans cast their votes on September 20.