In the southeast corner of Manitoba lies the riding of Provencher, part three of my four part series in profiling Monday's federal by-election ridings. Provencher is a mostly rural riding that spans two different linguistic communities and is most notable for being the riding that sent Louis Riel to parliament. The riding is centred on the city of Steinbach, southeast of Winnipeg, but also includes a number of small communities, such as Ste. Anne and Lac du Bonnet. Provencher was vacated in July, when its scandal-ridden MP, (now) former Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews resigned.
Provencher was one of the original four ridings carved out of Manitoba when it became a province in 1870. By-elections were held in these four ridings in 1871 to elect the first members of parliament for the new province. Even in 1871, Provencher was located in the southeast corner of Manitoba. Although, at the time the eastern boundary of the province was at 96th meridian, further west than where it currently sits at, at about 95°10' W. Since 1871, Provencher has always at least consisted of the areas south of Steinbach, and east of the Red River. And almost from the very beginning, the riding has had a strong presence from the Franco-Manitoban and German Mennonite communities. To this day, both German and French are the native tongues of at least 10% of the riding respectively.
In 1871, the riding was dominated by French Metis settlers. At the time, the riding consisted of St. Boniface, today a largely Franco-Manitoban community in Winnipeg, as well as the Red River Valley south of Winnipeg and the rural area towards the east, including the Franco-Manitoban community of Ste. Anne. To this day, there is a Provencher Bridge and a Provencher Boulevard in St. Boniface. Over time, Mennonites from Eastern Europe and Germany began settling in the riding, especially in the Steinbach area, and a Mennonite Reserve was provided for them in what is now Hanover Municipality and Steinbach. The riding boundaries remained largely the same until 1914 (except for the eastern boundary of the province being formalized in 1891), when the northern boundary was shifted south to a straight line through Steinbach, separating Ste. Anne and St. Boniface from the rest of the riding. These areas were given to the new riding of Springfield. The riding also gained some territory around MacDonald rural municipality. The splitting of Steinbach only lasted until 1924, when the northern boundary was shifted northward slightly, while the western boundary was moved eastward closer to the Red River. In 1952, the riding expanded slightly westward, but no major changes occurred until 1966. In that year, the riding was expanded northward all the way to Berens River, more than half way up Lake Winnipeg. Also at the time, the western boundary was moved to the Red River south of Winnipeg. This shift brought Ste. Anne back to the riding, as well it added in Springfield Rural Municipality and Lac du Bonnet, but removed the Morris area for the first time in the riding's history. In 1976, the riding's northern boundary was pushed even further north, to the 57th parallel, while the western boundary was altered slightly. In 1987, the riding's boundaries were shifted back south, and the riding began to look similar to today. Morris rejoined the riding, as well as the Rhineland Rural Municipality, while Springfield was removed. The northern boundary was brought down to Powerview-Pine Falls close to where it is today. In 1996, most of Springfield rejoined the riding, while the northern boundary was moved south Pinawa. In 2003, the riding lost Rhineland, but gained the area between Pinawa and Poweverview-Pine Falls.
List of Provencher's MPs:
- Pierre Delorme, Cons. (1871-1872)
- G.-E. Cartier, Cons. (1872-1873)
- L.D. Riel, Independent (1873-1875)
- A.G.B. Bannatyne, Liberal (1875-1878)
- Jos. Dubuc, Cons. (1878-1879)
- A.A.C. Lariviere, Cons. (1889-1904)
- J.E. Cyr, Liberal (1904-1908)
- J.P. Molloy, Liberal (1908-1921)
- A.-L. Beaubien, Liberal (1921-1940)
- Rene Jutras, Liberal (1940-1957)
- W.H. Jorgenson, Prog. Cons. (1957-1968)
- M.G. Smerchanski, Liberal (1968-1972)
- A.J. Epp, Prog. Cons. (1972-1993)
- D. Iftody, Liberal (1993-2000)
- V. Toews, Canadian Alliance (2000-2003), Cons. (2003-2013)
The riding was mostly represented by Franco-Manitobans until 1957, including two Metis', Pierre Delorme and Louis Riel. (Although, Riel never sat in Parliament, and was expelled from the legislature in 1875 after being elected three times- one of those times was a by-election following him being unseated). In 1972, the riding elected its first Mennonite in Jake Epp. Toews is also a Mennonite.
Despite the riding electing an equal amount of Conservatives as Liberals in its history, the riding is a very safe Conservative riding. Toews has won comfortably since first being elected in 2000. Tories also dominated this riding between 1957 and 1993, losing only one election thanks to Trudeaumania. Tories also dominated the riding from 1871 to 1904 (losing only to Louis Riel and to the Liberals in 1875). Liberals held the riding uninterrupted from 1904 to 1957. The Chretien wave of 1993 helped the Liberals win the seat back in 1993, and a divided right wing kept the riding Liberal in 1997.
Today, at nearly 100,000 people, Provencher is the most populated and also fastest growing riding in Manitoba. This has meant that the federal riding boundary commission had to make the riding smaller, when it released its final report earlier this year. The report has the northern boundary of the riding shifting southward once again, leaving the communities of Pinawa, Lac du Bonnet and Powerview-Pine Falls to join the new riding of Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman. The western boundary will also change, with both the Town and Rural Municipality of Morris being removed for the riding once again, and given to neighbouring Portage—Lisgar. Also, all of Springfield will be united in Provencher, instead of the current set up where the area north of Garven Road is in a different riding.
Vic Toews has been able to win the riding with massive majorities since 2004, including winning 71% of the vote in 2011. However, before the Conservatives united in 2003, the riding featured close races between the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance and the Liberals in 1993, 1997 and to a lesser extent in 2000. It is in these elections, that the linguistic polarity (Mennonite Germans vs. Franco-Manitobans) can be seen best. During these elections it was the Franco-Manitobans that backed Liberal candidate David Iftody, while Mennonite German areas voted Reform/Canadian Alliance. The rest of the riding (mostly in the east) was the true battleground. Since 2004 however, the riding has become solid blue. Both in 2008 and 2011, the Liberals won not one single poll. You can still see the French areas of the riding on those maps however, as those areas are still less Conservative (lighter blue) than the rest of the riding. Meanwhile, the darkest blue areas are the German Mennonite regions of the riding, where it was not uncommon for Vic Toews to break 80% in any given poll.
Between 1988 and 2006, the top two parties in the riding have been the Liberals and the Tories (or Reform/Canadian Alliance). However, in both the 2008 and 2011 elections, the NDP has become the 2nd party of the riding. Between 1988 and 2006, the NDP was stuck in the single digits before winning 14% in 2008 and 18% in 2011. The Liberals finished third in both elections, including 7% in 2011, their worst showing since 1930.
Both the 2008 and 2011 maps are very similar. The Tories won all but one poll in both elections, which was won by the NDP each time. That one poll is the Roseau River Indian Reserve in the south of the riding. The reserve consists of two parts, which is why it looks like the NDP actually won two polls.
In both elections, the most Conservative areas were the German Mennonite regions of Morris in the west, and Hanover and Steinbach in the central-west part of the riding. Outside the Roseau River Indian Reserve, the Tories were weakest in the Franco-Manitoban belt, that beings in the southwest part of the riding, goes between Morris and Hanover, and circles around Hanover ending on the east side of it. This belt includes the rural municipalities of Montcalm, De Salaberry, Ritchot, Tache and Ste. Anne, as well as the towns of Ste. Anne and St-Pierre-Jolys. In 2008, the Liberals did the best in this region, coming within one vote of winning one of the Ste. Anne polls. In 2011, much of this support shifted to the NDP. It was not just Francophones in Quebec who were brought in on the “Orange Wave”. In 2008, the strongest NDP areas were not in the Franco-Manitoban belt, but were rather in the northern part of the riding, an area with fewer Germans or French.
|2011 results by polling division|
In 2011, the strongest Conservative poll was #127, which covers the southern half of the community of Blumenort in Hanover Rural Municipality. It also contains the community of Clear Springs in Hanover, and some of Ste. Anne Rural Municipality. The Conservatives won an astounding 92% in that poll, as well as the neighbouring poll #128 covering the other half of Blumenort. Not surprisingly, the only poll the NDP won (poll #91) was their best poll, where they won 58%. Again, this poll covers the Roseau River Reserve. The next best poll for the NDP was 36% in poll #71 in Ste. Anne.
|2008 results by polling division|
In 2008, poll #127 was also the strongest poll for the Tories. Vic Toews picked up 87% of the vote there. The NDP's best poll was again #91 again, where they won 44%. The next highest was #25 covering the community of Prawda on the Trans-Canada Highway in Reynolds Rural Municipality, where they won 35%. The Liberal's best poll was #71, in Ste. Anne Rural Municipality, where the party won 34% of the vote, losing by one single vote. This poll covers the rural area surrounding the Town of Ste. Anne, including the community of La Coulee.
2008-2011 Two-party swing
|Provencher two-party swing (Conservatives vs. NDP) from 2008 to 2011|
The 2008 and 2011 elections produced similar results with Toews winning 65% and 71% respectively, and the NDP winning 14% and 18% respectively. Both parties saw a modest increase in their vote share, resulting in a small two-party swing of 0.9% from the NDP to the Conservatives. Both parties gained mostly from the collapse of the Liberals, and to a lesser extent the Greens, as well as the right wing Christian Heritage Party, which actually finished 2nd place in a number of polls. Blue areas on my swing map basically show polls were the Tories benefited the most from this vote collapse, while orange areas show where the NDP benefited from the collapse. In the Franco-Manitoban belt, the NDP was the party that benefited the most from the Liberal collapse in their traditional territory. Albeit, the swing to the NDP there was very small, indicated by the very light shades of orange on the map. Much of the rest of the riding swung to the Tories. Not many areas swung heavily to either party.
Provencher is a typical rural riding, in that it has a high percentage of Whites, at 85%. Most of the rest, 12% is of Aboriginal descent. Most Aboriginals in the riding are in fact Metis, a remnant of the riding's history. 80% of the riding is Christian. The National Household Survey's “Other Christian” category is the largest Christian group, at 36%. Many of these people are understandably Mennonites. 24% are Catholics, and the United Church is the largest Protestant denomination at 6%. 20% of the riding is non religious. The median income in the riding is $29,000 and the average income is $36,000. This is typical for the province. Over one third of the riding identifies as ethnically German. There are also large numbers of people who identified as ethnically French, English, Ukrainian, Scottish and Russian.
|Leading non-English native language by Census Subdivision|
Linguistically, two thirds of residents have English as their native language. 17% are native German speakers and 10% are native French speakers. Native German speakers are concentrated in the former Mennonite Reserves, like in Hanover, Steinbach and Morris. La Broquerie, an historically French municipality next to Hanover also has more native German speakers than French. Native French speakers are concentrated in the Franco-Manitoba belt, which I mentioned earlier as running from Montcalm Rural Municipality in the south, down the Red River Valley, and wrapping around Hanover to include Ste. Anne. One town, Saint-Pierre-Jolys actually has more native French speakers than English. It is the only municipality in the riding where English isn't the number one native language. There are also French concentrations in the north end of the riding, mostly in Alexander Rural Municipality.
Due to the fact that Provencher is such a safe seat, the race there has become the least interesting of the four elections. And this fact is not just based on voting history but is also confirmed with polling data. But perhaps the Conservatives should be a little bit concerned, as a Forum Research poll conducted on November 22 shows the Tories with just an 11 point lead (48-37) over the Liberals there. Forum had the Tories ahead by 21 points just a week before. If momentum continues, the Liberals could even pick this seat up! Right now, Provencher is actually the only one of the four ridings where the Liberals are not ahead. Anything is possible though, with Justin Trudeaumania sweeping the country, the Tories in hot water over Senate scandals, and their local candidate being a no show for debates.
The Conservative front runner is Ted Falk, who is a Mennonite from Steinbach, and a businessman. He is also the former President of the Steinbach Credit Union. According to polls, Falk's main opponent is Terry Hayward of the Liberal Party. Hayward is a retired public servant from Springfield, and was the former President of the Beausejour chapter of something called “Canadian Parents for French”. The NDP is running a Francophone in Natalie Courcelles Beaudry, also a public servant. The Greens are running Janine Gibson, a past president of Canadian Organic Growers. She lives near Steinbach.
If the Liberals are only behind by 11 points in this riding, that means they will likely gain back much of the Franco-Manitoban belt that has slipped away from them in recent elections. It, of course, doesn't hurt that their candidate was President of a French organization. The NDP may actually be running a Francophone candidate, but it appears she isn't making any inroads in the riding. She may prevent the Liberals from winning enough of the Francophone vote to win the seat. But the Liberals need more than just the Francophone areas to win; they'll need some of the rural eastern and northern areas to win. Just placing second in Provencher would be good news for the Liberals, though who have finished third for the last two elections. A win would be a sign that the Liberals are back on top across the country.