As Manitoba’s Oct. 3 election day approaches, the Progressive Conservatives are actively campaigning to oppose the search at a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women who police suspect are victims of a suspected serial killer.
In a full page ad in the Winnipeg Free Press On Saturday, the PCs drew attention to four party campaign issues and gave a place of prominence to leader Heather Stefanson’s opposition to the landfill pursuit.
“Stand strong,” the ad reads, alongside a photo of Stefanson with the caption: “For health and safety reasons, the answer to excavating the landfill has to be simply no.”
The announcement was released two days after a televised party leadership debate in which Stefanson raised the search for landfills during his first opportunity to ask NDP Leader Wab Kinew about his support for the search. A couple of recent polls suggest the NDP is poised to wrest power from the PCs.
“Why are you willing to put $184 million and Manitoba workers at risk for a warrantless search?” she asked, referencing the maximum estimated cost for a proposed search of the Prairie Green landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser, north of Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg Police Service believes the bodies of alleged homicide victims Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are located inside the landfill. Police revealed this in December, sparking discussions about a possible search between all three levels of government, indigenous leaders and the families of the missing women.
Stefanson initially announced in July that the province would not help fund that search, citing health and safety concerns for workers and low prospects for success. Since then, the PC leader has repeated her opposition dozens of times, but only in the past week has she made this position a central aspect of her message.
Chief Kyra Wilson of Long Plain First Nation, Myran and Harris’ home community, described PC’s new strategy as extremely painful for families facing the loss of loved ones.
“I think it’s just a complete lack of compassion and disregard for everyone who is affected by this,” he said in an interview.
“The fact that Heather Stefanson and the PCs are using a family’s pain to motivate their campaign messages, I think is disgusting. I think it’s sick.”
Cambria Harris, Morgan Harris’ daughter, accused Stefanson in a Facebook post of launching “a smear campaign” against her family’s desire to search the landfill.
“Thank you Heather Stefanson for continuing to show us Manitobans that you do not actually represent the Indigenous community,” Harris said in the post.
Nahanni Fontaine, the current NDP candidate for St. John’s, said it’s unfortunate that the PC party chose to campaign based on their opposition to the search for the landfill.
“I think it’s totally disrespectful to politicize and make this an election issue and I would say the majority of Manitobans would agree with us,” Fontaine said. “It’s one of many dog whistles we’re seeing in this election.”
Kevin Klein, the PC candidate for Kirkfield Park, said Sunday that it is fair to describe opposition to the search for landfills as a central part of his party’s campaign, but he insisted that “other parties” are raising the search for landfills. landfills for political gain.
“Maybe they see it as a divisive issue. Maybe it helps them. Maybe that’s why they’re talking,” said Klein, whose own mother was murdered in Oshawa, Ont., in 1991.
“I think it’s something that others have made political and are bringing it back to the forefront and want to keep talking about this because it’s their agenda.
“Our prime minister has not wavered. Our prime minister has stuck to the facts and her decision.”
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said it’s nearly impossible to take a politically nuanced stance on landfill searching because the ethical and emotional content is so high.
He said Stefanson and the Progressive Conservative Party may actually consider a search for landfills with little prospect of success not fiscally responsible and may also have polls that suggest a segment of the voting public agrees.
Thomas also said the PCs may be acting defensively now that they trail the NDP in the polls.
“Their goal has become to hold as much political ground as possible. They might calculate that they have to be completely negative in the last 10 days and make Wab Kinew and indigenous issues a lightning rod to generate concern and motivate their supporters.” Thomas said.
“This is risky. The approach needs to be carefully balanced, not hysterical or seen as unfair. Otherwise, it could provoke a backlash, especially among women voters in Winnipeg and even more specifically in south Winnipeg.”
Chief Wilson suggested that Stefanson’s repeated focus on the potential cost and safety of a landfill search appears to preclude other ways forward.
“We’re not saying give us $184 million and we’ll call it a day. What we’re saying is come to the table, talk to us and come up with solutions,” Wilson said. “That’s what she’s not doing.”
Election day in Manitoba is October 3.