The provincial seat vacated by former Manitoba premier Heather Stefanson is up for grabs, and advance voting is already underway for the byelection.

The Tuxedo constituency — held by Progressive Conservative Stefanson for more than two decades — is known as a Tory stronghold, but the NDP came within 300 votes of flipping it in October 2023’s provincial election.

University of Winnipeg political science prof Malcolm Bird says the June 18 vote will act as a measure of the province’s current political temperature.

“In some respects, byelections aren’t that significant, because they’re not going to change the balance of power,” Bird said.

“But on the other hand, they actually are significant because they give a bit of a litmus test to see what voters are thinking … and feeling and give them a real opportunity to mark their preferences on the ballot.”

Bird said the fact that Stefanson barely eked out a win in October could be a sign of things to come, but it’s difficult to say without knowing the specific reasons behind the electorate’s rejection of the former premier as a candidate.

“Her margin declined considerably from the previous outcome. We don’t know why people decided not to vote for her — was it (Stefanson) herself, was it her government, was it the timing? We don’t know,” he said.

“If the Tories were to lose this, that would be a bad thing for them, and right now they’re in a difficult position because the premier has called this election with relatively short notice and they don’t have a lot of time to prepare.”

The NDP, Bird said, is currently at an advantage — continuing to enjoy a honeymoon period after their historic victory last fall, and facing opposition parties that are still rebuilding.

“Right now this government’s had it relatively easy.

“The Tories don’t have a permanent leader, (former Liberal leader) Dougald Lamont has left the arena, and there’s not really an effective opposition holding the government to account.”

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg’s Tuxedo byelection expected to be ‘competitive’: researcher'

That doesn’t mean, however, that the results of the byelection are a foregone conclusion.

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PC candidate Lawrence Pinsky — a lawyer for more than three decades as well as a human rights adjudicator — says he’s going to do what needs to be done to “keep Tuxedo Progressive Conservative.”

“This is a very important byelection,” Pinsky told Global Winnipeg.

“In my career, I’ve done a lot of mediation — I’m a family lawyer — and so we see people going through real crises as our province is going through a real crisis on several levels now, so it’s about bringing people together and finding solutions looking forward.”

Pinsky — also a former canoe instructor — acknowledged that while there’s no guarantee his party will be able to hold onto the seat, his plan is to keep on paddling.

“When you suddenly hit unexpected rough water, you just paddle harder.

‘You have to decide at some point to stand up for things you believe in when society’s a little bit in peril.”

Click to play video: 'Future of Tuxedo political seat'

The NDP candidate, registered nurse Carla Compton, ran for the seat in 2019, finishing third, and says she was encouraged to run again due to the current government’s strong efforts toward repairing the province’s health-care system.

“I’ve been a registered nurse for over 18 years — I’m very passionate about health care,” Compton told Global Winnipeg.

“Top of mind, as a nurse, is staffing, and I know that’s something that’s a top priority (for the current NDP government). I know that would have a significant impact for my colleagues and ultimately the patients and Manitobans.”

Compton said she’s not taking the narrow results of the fall vote for granted … but it is a sign Tuxedo residents are hungry for change, something she’s heard at the door from people in the community as well.

“We know the message was heard loud and clear. We know Tuxedo is ready for change, ready for a change in their representation.

“We are doing everything possible to connect with all of the folks in the Tuxedo constituency to be starting to build a relationship — to let folks know we want to represent you, I want to represent you, and we think that you deserve a seat at the government’s table.”

Click to play video: 'Former Manitoba premier Heather Stefanson leaving politics'

Also running in the byelection is Jamie Pfau for the Manitoba Liberals.

Pfau, president of the Manitoba Foster Parent Association and a longtime advocate for foster parents, says she thinks her educational and professional background makes her an ideal candidate, especially given some of the issues that are top-of-mind in Manitoba.

“I’m a PhD candidate in community health sciences, and I have a background in social work and psychology,” Pfau said.

“Of course, I do research child welfare, but there are a lot of other systems that are impacted as well, including mental health, health care, criminal justice… I honour my role as a foster parent advocate, but I also want to make changes in other areas as well.”

Pfau told Global Winnipeg that while the riding is traditionally Progressive Conservative, the numbers tell a story of dwindling support.

And with only one Liberal MLA currently sitting in the legislature, strengthening the party’s representation could benefit all Manitobans.

“If we have two liberal seats, that would be so profound, compared to just another NDP seat or another PC seat,” she said.

“We need the three-party system in Canada to keep the government accountable — whichever government is in power at the time.”

Also on the ballot is Manitoba Green Party Leader Janine Gibson.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba parties line up candidates for June 18 byelection in former premier’s seat'