WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s New Democrats are back for a fourth-straight majority government despite the Progressive Conservatives taking a bite out of their popular vote in Tuesday’s general election.
Premier Greg Selinger’s party was on track to take at least 35 of the 57 legislature seats, even though Hugh McFadyen’s Tories were almost matching the NDP in percentage of the vote. The NDP won 36 votes in the 2007 election.
The difference was Winnipeg, which has 31 seats and holds the balance of power. The NDP was elected in all but a handful of seats in the capital city, which allowed the party to hold off a strong rural showing by the Tories.
The Tories had targeted a number of Winnipeg seats with little success. Star candidates such as Olympic speedskater Susan Auch and former city councillor Gord Steeves went down to defeat by healthy margins.
Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard retained his Winnipeg riding of River Heights, but a party flirting with single-digit support in recent polls appeared hard-pressed to gain a second.
Gerrard wouldn’t discuss his future but did say he would represent his constituents for the next four years. He told his supporters not to lose faith.
“There is a very strong future for Liberals in Manitoba,” he said.
“We have a dream someday we will have a Liberal government in this province. Let us, in spite of the results today, not be disheartened.”
Selinger retained his Winnipeg seat of St. Boniface and McFadyen was re-elected in the city’s Fort Whyte constituency.
The win is a personal victory for Selinger, who took over from Gary Doer, the charismatic leader who was the face of the NDP for 20 years. Doer left to become Canada’s ambassador to the United States and party support dipped under Selinger. He had served as the province’s finance minister for a decade but struggled as leader to connect with voters.
As recently as seven months ago, polls suggested the Tories were well out in front of the New Democrats, but Selinger polished his public-speaking skills and developed a more aggressive tone when debating his opponents.
That tone was evident throughout the hotly contested four-week election campaign. The parties were differentiated more by their attacks ads than by policies.
On billboards, television and in print, the NDP accused McFadyen of having a secret agenda to privatize Crown corporations and cut health care.
McFadyen, 44, is a former lawyer who has led the Tories through two unsuccessful campaigns. He was painted by the NDP as a neo-conservative threat to government programs based on his time as a policy adviser to the Tory government of the 1990s, which sold off the province’s telephone company.
McFadyen spent much of the campaign on the defensive. He took out ads that promised no such cuts would occur.
But the Tories also took their own jabs. They accused the NDP of having a soft-on-crime stance and letting criminals roam free. One candidate’s radio ad called the Point Douglas area north of downtown Winnipeg “a war zone.”
All three parties promised to hire more doctors and nurses to improve health care and to put more police officers on the streets to fight the province’s high crime rate.
Gerrard, 63, has had four kicks at the can and has failed to bring the Liberals out of the political wilderness. He struggled in a campaign that was personally disheartening and, at times, riven with dissent.
One week before the election, one Liberal candidate said he was worried the party might not win any seats and placed part of the blame on Gerrard.
Days later, two former Liberal members of Parliament wrote letters of support for New Democrats in two constituencies. Then someone using a photo of Liberal candidate Paul Hesse opened a Twitter account and started posting messages urging Gerrard to step down. Hesse immediately denounced the move and said he had not authorized it.
The Liberals won two seats in the 2007 election. One became vacant last year when Kevin Lamoureux resigned for a successful run at federal politics.
When the election was called, the NDP had 36 seats, the Tories had 18, the Liberals had one and there were two vacancies.