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Canada Election: Tight result expected for Saskatchewan’s Desnethé-Missinippi—Churchill River race

Click to play video: 'Canada election: Tight result expected in northern Saskatchewan race' Canada election: Tight result expected in northern Saskatchewan race
Saskatchewan's northern riding is once again expected to be a tight race with all three major parties having a shot at winning the seat. Kyle Benning has more on the swing riding and how the candidates are getting their message out during a pandemic – Sep 17, 2021

Candidates for Saskatchewan’s largest riding are preparing their final pitches to voters in advance of the Sept. 20 election.

One political scientist said the Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River riding isn’t as simple as voting along party lines, but moreso who the candidate is and their connections to the community.

“We’re talking about a part of the province where party label is a lot less important than the local profile of the candidate,” the University of Regina’s Tom McIntosh said.

Read more: Canada election results: Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River

Saskatchewan’s northernmost riding has seen each of the three major parties win the seat over the last two decades and this year, all of them are expected to have a shot at it again.

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Buckley Belanger left his seat as the NDP MLA for Athabasca, a seat he held for 25 years, to run as the Liberal candidate in the federal election.

The former mayor of Ile-a-la-Crosse said 99 per cent of the travelling he has done has been by car.

“I think there is one instance where I used a boat to go to one place, but that was just a very short little trip,” Belanger told Global News.

Read more: Buckley Belanger resigning as NDP MLA, seeking Liberal nomination for next federal election

The Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River riding is one the country’s largest at an estimated size of 342,903 sq. km. — around 15,000 sq. km. smaller than Germany.

About two-thirds of voters are of Indigenous background and the riding has a number of fly-in communities making it more difficult and costly for candidates to campaign there.

On top of that, many northern communities have seen large COVID-19 exposures over the last several months, and have shut off access to visitors.

Click to play video: 'Federal Election 2019: northern Sask. expected to see a close race' Federal Election 2019: northern Sask. expected to see a close race
Federal Election 2019: northern Sask. expected to see a close race – Oct 21, 2019

Conservative candidate Gary Vidal won the 2019 race, beating out then NDP incumbent Georgina Jolibois and Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson.

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The former Meadow Lake mayor noted every party thinks they can win the seat which they’ve shown by putting high-profile candidates in the race.

“So is that a surprise? No, not at all. Does it create a fierce competition? Yeah, absolutely,” he said.

Vidal, who won the previous election by nearly 3800 votes, added that he’s ready to take on any challengers.

Read more: Conservative Gary Vidal heading to Ottawa in latest life milestone

Political scientists and pollsters have listed Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River as a three-way race with the New Democrat’s Harmonie King as one of the front-runners.

King is a social worker who works in many of the northern communities.

She ran in last year’s provincial election and in this year’s Metis Nation-Saskatchewan election, losing both times.

When asked about her previous campaigns and why a voter should cast a ballot for her instead of Vidal or Belanger, King excused herself from the Zoom interview for four-and-a-half minutes.

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When she re-entered the call, she said how the previous campaigns have taught her a lot and helped shape this campaign and how she connects with voters.

King added she feels relationships made through her job gives her an upper hand, and her team has tried to find ways to reach communities they couldn’t travel to during the campaign.

“Whether it’s online, through the phone or connecting through the radio,” she said.

Read more: Over 30,000 more Sask. voters used advance polls compared with 2019 election

There are three other candidates in the race: Nasser Chalifoux with the Green Party, Dezirae Reddekopp with the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) and Stephen King who is running as an independent.

In a statement, Chalifoux said even with the size of the riding, news can travel faster than he can as a candidate and he believes he has been able to get his message out to voters.

The PPC candidate’s team declined Global News’ offer to comment while the independent candidate didn’t respond to our request before publication.

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