With Weir off the ballot Steinley seems the man to beat in

TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post Conservative Warren Steinley speaks during an all-candidates debate for the Regina—Lewvan riding that was held at the University of Regina College Avenue Campus. Jigar Patel is out for a short spell of electioneering on a Saturday afternoon, and the first door opens with a blunt question.A woman wonders what he, the NDP candidate for Regina—Lewvan, thinks about what happened to Erin Weir.Patel doesn’t mince words. He knows and respects Weir. He supported keeping the embattled MP in the party despite harassment allegations — and he now gives an answer that’s offside with his party leader.“It’s the wrong thing that happened,” Patel tells the woman.“That’s a good answer,” she responds. “That’s what I think too.”Weir’s departure looms over the Regina—Lewvan race. He won by just 132 votes over the Conservative candidate in 2015. He said winning the riding for the NDP in 2019 would be a challenge, even as an incumbent. But Jagmeet Singh’s decision to bar Weir from running as a New Democrat forced the party to scramble for a replacement.Story continues belowThis advertisement has not loaded yet,but your article continues below.“The party has to go forward and somebody needs to step up,” Patel said.Weir will be watching. He plans to vote for Patel, but he expects that any NDP candidate would face “difficult circumstances” as the national leadership promotes policies at odds with local economic interests. First among them is a pipeline stance that Evraz steelworkers warn will put them out of work.“I don’t know that I have any crystal ball, but looking at the polls and projections that are out there, it looks as though the Conservatives are well ahead,” Weir said of the race in Regina—Lewvan.Electoral projections from 338Canada are currently giving Conservative candidate Warren Steinley a greater than 99 per cent chance of winning the riding, based on national and regional polling trends combined with local demographic data. It’s among the only Saskatchewan pickups available to the Conservatives, who already control 10 of Saskatchewan’s 14 seats.But Patel and Liberal candidate Winter Fedyk are hoping to stop Steinley by monopolizing the progressive vote. The riding was competitive for all three parties in 2015, with the Liberals 3,700 votes behind the top two finishers.Patel believes 2015 was an anomaly. In his view, the Liberals have an unpopular record and a fickle vote that’s ripe for the taking. NDP candidate Jigar Patel, left, works with volunteers to put together his campaign signs at their office in Regina. The Greens earned a paltry 839 votes in 2015. But climate is now a more salient issue, and Hunter is a purist. If she wins, she said she’ll drive to Ottawa to avoid hiking her carbon footprint by flying.In her view, the time for “half-measures” and “a weak carbon tax” is over.“We need a strong voice in Ottawa that is talking for Mother Earth,” she said. “We need them from the Prairies.”And Hunter doesn’t run away from her party’s position on pipelines. She said the Trans Mountain expansion will “absolutely” need to be scrapped, but argued that the Evraz steel mill can be put to work in making green infrastructure.Voters on the other side of the climate debate have another purist to represent their voice. At a candidate’s forum on Friday, PPC candidate Trevor Wowk rejects what he calls “climate extremist views” and questioned the accuracy of climate models that predict disaster.But he also presents himself as a political chameleon, a lifelong NDP supporter turned off by Weir’s dismissal. He insists he can steal votes from all parties and believes that the election won’t be a blowout, but another tight race like 2015.“Half the NDP vote is disenfranchised, looking for an option,” said Wowk. “It’s going to be a horse race. It’s going to be just like it was last time — somebody is going to win by 132 votes.” TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post People’s Party of Canada candidate Trevor Wowk speaks during an all-candidates debate in the Regina–Lewvan riding that was held at the University of Regina College Avenue Campus in Regina. Even on Steinley’s home turf of Regina Walsh Acres, Patel meets New Democrats who are eager to listen to his message of universal pharmacare and the value of education. A few invite him into their home for lengthy chats, where he expounds on his experience as a businessman and avid volunteer.But some supporters seem to be bracing themselves for disappointment.“We’ll hope for the best, anyways,” says one NDPer on the doorstep.At Tommy Douglas’s old house in the Crescents neighbourhood, another NDP supporter is short on hope. And Fedyk is hoping to win her over for the Liberals. On the first Wednesday after Labour Day, Fedyk has taken her play for the progressive crown straight into this symbol of NDP strength.The woman says it’s a tough election to be an NDPer. She’s not counting Fedyk out.“I don’t know who I’m voting for yet, except that it’s not Tory,” said the woman. “We’ll see how the campaign unfolds.”But the woman also has her doubts about the sitting government, especially over electoral reform and the SNC-Lavalin affair. She said the government had been “stupid” in the way it handled the controversy.Fedyk had no trouble dismissing the SNC affair as overblown in an earlier interview. She called it an “unfortunate situation,” but said nothing she heard “raised alarm bells.” She said the prime minister handled it “very well.”But when confronted at the doorstep, she seems to freeze. “OK,” she says.The Liberal record creates other headwinds for Fedyk’s crusade to unite the left. A few doors down from the old Douglas house, she meets another man who said he doesn’t see a strong enough commitment to tackling climate change from her party. Buying a pipeline might win over a few steelworkers, but it doesn’t play well in the Crescents.“The problem with politics is that people look for perfection rather than progress,” Fedyk reflected after leaving the man’s door. “But you know what? Closer to E-Day, he might change his mind.”SNC-Lavalin aside, Fedyk is effective in explaining policy. A longtime civil servant, she calls herself a “policy nerd” who once took part in a “policy book club.” But she’s lagging her main competitors in reaching voters. She’s knocked on about 9,000 doors and acknowledges she won’t get to every home in the riding. She’s relying on word of mouth and social media to deliver her message further afield.She’s also behind the Green Party on that score, according to candidate Naomi Hunter, who said she’s worn out a pair of shoes by knocking on 20,000 doors since beginning her run early this year.“We are organized and we are absolutely dedicated to this,” Hunter said. [email protected] TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post Fedyk feels the same way about NDP support. She called herself a “sleeper” who will come from behind to win, and points to frustrated New Democrats to prove it’s possible.“I know that they’re very upset by that and have told me when I’m knocking on their doors,” she said. “I’ve had people come into the office and say ‘I’m usually an NDP voter, but not this time.’”Both Patel and Fedyk are framing Regina—Lewvan as a two-way race, with Steinley as their competitor. Patel thinks the Liberal vote is already his, and his campaign manager said Conservative voters are now in their sights. But Steinley takes a typical frontrunner’s posture. He’s not talking about either of his challengers.“We aren’t that worried about what the other campaigns are doing,” Steinley said. “We have a plan. We know where we need to get to to win.”Regina—Lewvan is a diverse riding, with roughly 17 per cent of its residents identifying as a visible minority. It had among the highest voter turnouts in the province in 2015 and is wealthier than the other two Regina ridings in terms of median incomes. It encompasses older neighbourhoods like Lakeview and Cathedral with plenty of progressive voters.But the Conservatives focused their pre-writ energies on newer housing developments to the north and south, including Harbour Landing and Walsh Acres, where they earned far better margins in 2015. They’ve gradually worked their way into more difficult terrain like Rosemont-Mount Royal.Steinley, a two-term Saskatchewan Party MLA for Regina Walsh Acres, explains the strategy in simple terms.“You fish where the fish are,” he said. Winter Fedyk, Regina-Lewvan Liberal candidate, at her campaign office in Regina. TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post He’s had plenty of time to go fishing. Steinley first announced his candidacy in early 2018, more than a year before Patel or Fedyk entered the race. He campaigned on evenings and weekends while serving as an MLA, a decision that earned criticism that occasionally turns up on the doorstep.But his head start left him in a strong position when the campaign officially started in September. By then, he had knocked on almost 25,000 doors and handed out 1,500 Warren Steinley frisbees at summertime events.He has only accelerated the pace, with his team reaching about 500 doorsteps a day since he resigned from the provincial legislature on Sept. 11. He has a rapid-fire style of campaigning, jumping from house to house with a quick pitch to voters.“If you don’t want to see another Liberal government, Andrew’s our best chance, and how amazing to have a prime minister from Regina,” is one of his favourite lines.He also trumpets affordability and the Conservative party’s commitment to an energy corridor for Canadian resources. He’s confident he can earn the votes of unionized Evraz steelworkers unhappy with the NDP’s pipeline position, and predicted Patel will suffer for it.“He’ll have to answer those questions for himself when it comes to talking to people on the doorstep,” Steinley said. “But you really can’t be on both sides of this issue.”Patel has proven hesitant to speak about Trans Mountain or commit to a clear position on its expansion, preferring to direct the conversation to the NDP pledge to create 300,000 green jobs for energy workers.But he’s aiming to catch up to Steinley through the power of hard work and solid organization. He puts in 11-hour days. He attracts large volunteer forces, especially from minority communities. According to his campaign manager, Barb Dedi, his team has knocked on roughly 35,000 doors and routinely places among the top NDP candidates in the country in voter outreach. TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post Naomi Hunter, Regina-Lewvan Green Party candidate, stands outside the Legislative Building in Regina.