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Old Posted Oct 1, 2008, 1:21 PM
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Voters bring up Toews scandal
Rival candidates stick to policy questions

By: Bruce Owen

Updated: October 1 at 02:50 AM CDT | Winnipeg Free Press

IT'S an issue unique to this south-eastern Manitoba riding, but not one likely to be debated between the incumbent and the four challengers who want his job.

Earlier this year, Conservative MP Vic Toews found himself on the receiving end of some unflattering stories involving his personal life that wouldn't play well in the province's Bible Belt. In fact, the relationship the province's most powerful federal politician had with a Tory staffer who is now a young mother, apparently had him, at one point, considering stepping down from politics to be appointed a Court of Queen's Bench judge.

Toews, the former justice minister and current Treasury Board minister, declined to comment on the reports as he stressed that he intended to stay in politics. Meanwhile in court, divorce proceedings from his wife of 33 years continued.

The matter faded away after Toews wrote in the Steinbach Carillon, inviting constituents to contact him directly if they want to talk to him about private matters he refused to discuss with the media.

"Every day, every situation and every decision bring choices as to which path to take," Toews wrote. "Most times I believe that we choose the correct path; however, as human beings we will sometimes choose incorrectly. I am no exception and I take full responsibility for the decisions I make."

Now, almost four months later, talk of Toews' personal life is again an open topic as Liberal, NDP, and Christian Heritage Party candidates knock on doors in the Steinbach area.

"That comes up often, almost as often as health care," Liberal Shirley Hiebert said. "I tell them I don't want to go there, that I want to talk about the issues. Obviously, if they're talking about it, it's a concern."

NDP candidate Ross Martin and David Reimer of the Christian Heritage Party have heard the same thing at the door.

"Many people are bringing it to my attention," said Reimer, founding pastor of Shalom Family Worship Centre in Steinbach.

Martin, like Reimer, said when it comes up with voters, his reply is quick.

"We're dealing with policy," Martin said. "We won't delve into it. Policy is what counts."

The fifth candidate running in Provencher is the Green Party's Janine Gibson. The independent organic food inspector ran in the last federal election in 2006, getting 1,830 votes to Toews' 25,199.

Hiebert, who earned a PhD studying First Nations health care, said other issues in the riding are child care, the economy and the environment.

This is Toews' fourth federal election campaign since 2000, when he was first elected to represent Provencher, which has a long history of voting Conservative.

The riding includes Lac du Bonnet, Steinbach, Altona, Lorette and Pinawa, where candidates meet Oct. 9 for an all-party forum. The riding also includes several native reserves and Whiteshell Provincial Park. The agricultural sector employs most people, followed by manufacturing and the service industry.
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