• Jim Mosher

Gimli MLA Wharton takes flight southeast to new Red River North riding

Brian Pallister, from left, Jeff Wharton (Gimli) and Derek Johnson (Interlake) on campaign stop in Gimli in late-March 2016.

It might be said that Conservative MLA Jeff Wharton is ‘abandoning ship’, but he is not alone as he and Interlake riding Conservative MLA Derek Johnson shift positions after electoral district boundary changes that take effect when the writ drops for the next provincial election.

(The 'fixed' date for the next election is October 6, 2020, according to legislation; however, the premier can call an election before that.)

Wharton, the province’s minister of municipal relations, is headed south to Red River North, the name of a new riding north of Selkirk. Wharton won the nomination last week. Interlake riding’s Johnson will run in the new Interlake-Gimli riding, after winning the nomination at a recent meeting in Gimli. Interlake-Gimli includes the northern parts of the former Interlake and Gimli ridings.

The game of political musical chairs came into play after the report of the Electoral Divisions Boundaries Commission’s redistricting of Manitoba constituencies, a process that takes place, as legislated, every 10 years. The decisions of the non-partisan commission are binding on the legislature, e.g. it is not subject to a vote.

“It’s obviously a great opportunity to get out and meet people in East St. Paul and the St. Clement area,” Wharton said of his move to Red River North, where he was recently nominated. “We spent a lot of time with our team building Gimli, as you know. We were handed by the commission a boundary change that affected, I would say, almost 90 per cent of the boundaries in Manitoba. Certainly, there was going to be change, so we’ve got together and we’ve moved forward. The reality is I’m going to be the [Conservative] candidate in 2020 in the new riding created by the commission of Red River North.”

Wharton says Red River North is a good fit for him because much of the new riding, north of Selkirk, includes the environs of the eastern Lake Winnipeg shore, where challenges and opportunities exist as they do on Gimli riding’s western lakeshore.

“There is a lot of similarities between the two: the former riding of Gimli versus the riding of Red River North. You’ve got cottage country, you’ve got full-time, you’ve got commercial fishing,” said Wharton. “So it feels like a good fit.”

Boundary changes in other ridings have forced lateral and vertical movements of MLAs elected in April 2016.

There are two Interlake Pallister government Cabinet ministers moving to redrawn electoral districts, among them Municipal Relations Minister Wharton and Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler (Lakeside).

It’s all a tad confusing but most believe the election is at least a year away, though Premier Brian Pallister has demurred when asked whether he would call an early election.

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