WINNIPEG — First Nations residents forced to evacuate their Manitoba homes after a recent snowstorm expressed frustration Monday that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was campaigning in the area instead of helping out.
Though NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he'd changed his own travel plans to avoid the province, Scheer's itinerary was not adjusted, and he dodged questions about whether he should have modified his plans or tried to assist while there.
Scheer said his campaign did not want to disrupt the important work the Red Cross and others were doing to assist those affected by the storm.
He said he made a personal donation to the Red Cross, though would not disclose the amount, and encouraged others to do the same.
"We are sending our best wishes, our hearts are going out to those people who are affected by the storm," he told reporters.
"We know the important work to clean up afterwards and get power restored is underway, and we certainly hope that happens as quickly as possible."
Approximately 16,393 Manitoba homes and businesses were still without power Monday evening after a snowstorm that the province's Crown energy utility said had done an unprecedented amount of damage to transmission lines and towers. It could take more than a week to repair.
Premier Brian Pallister had declared a state of emergency early Sunday morning.
Scheer's campaign pulled into the Radisson Hotel in downtown Winnipeg midday Monday for the first stop on the last week of the election campaign.
His theme for the final days is to lay out what a Conservative government would do during its first 100 days in office.
He promised Monday to table a fiscal update within 45 days of forming government that would include implementing tax credits for green home renovations, public transit and children's arts and fitness programs by Jan. 1, 2020.
But his message track was quickly derailed when his campaign team walked into the lobby to find babies, teenagers, their parents and grandparents from Lake Manitoba impatiently milling around.
Their First Nation was one of six evacuated after the storm, and one resident nearly broke down in tears as she described what her family had been through since their power cut out on Saturday morning.
Margaret Missyabit said she walked from her house to her brother's, after failing to get any information by phone on when the power might come back on. It was there she learned they were being evacuated.
Many people had little time to take anything but the clothes on their backs, and since arriving in Winnipeg had been given no support beyond hotel rooms and meal vouchers from local authorities.
Missyabit grew agitated when asked whether she thought Scheer should be campaigning in the area.
"No," she exclaimed.
""He should be helping out, if he wants to campaign he should help the people."
Missyabit said the government needs to step up and help not just her community, but the thousands of others unsure where they would sleep.
Her family was being moved out of the Radisson and she had no idea where they were going next, she said.
"We're not animals to be shuffled around like this. It's frustrating."
Scheer's campaign staff said they did not know the hotel was being used as a temporary residence, and did not ask for the group to be moved.
At an evening rally, Candice Bergen, a Conservative MP running for re-election, said Scheer made the right choice to be in the province on Monday.
"Even though we've been through a storm, and we're going through a bit of a battle, we are resilient, we come together, we fight together," she told hundreds of cheering supporters packed into a local curling club.
"Manitobans care about this election and they are so happy that Andrew Scheer is here today to support us."
Winnipeg is a potential hot spot for Conservatives this election. The Liberals took seven out of eight seats in the city in 2015, a feat not expected to be repeated this time around.
But Scheer warned those thinking of casting ballots for them that if they do, they'll just end up with a coalition government of the Liberals and NDP, and the result will be life that's just more expensive for everyone.
"I do not believe that Canadians want a Trudeau-NDP coalition, a government where Justin Trudeau may be the spokesperson but the NDP are calling the shots."
Scheer campaigned Monday in one riding the Conservatives are hoping to win back from the Liberals: Kildonan-St. Paul. Scheer visited an assisted-living facility with local candidate Raquel Dancho. The duo poured coffee and tea for residents and made small talk about the food, and the Thanksgiving holiday.
One man said to Scheer, "You look familiar." He replied, "I hope so."
Another resident appeared to know exactly who Scheer was, as she pressed him on his position on pharmacare. Jeanette Goertzen told him she is Metis and has limited drug coverage. She pointed to her hearing aid, noting it cost her thousands, and she did not recoup the full cost from the province.
Scheer told her his party is committed to not cutting the amount of money the federal government transfers to the provinces for health care, and she nodded, saying later she appreciated the answer.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 14, 2019.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press