WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s NDP dominated seat-rich Winnipeg to roll to a fourth-consecutive majority government Tuesday, while PC leader Hugh McFadyen announced that he will be stepping down after a new leader can be elected.
McFadyen retained his own seat in the south Winnipeg riding of Fort Whyte, but it appeared the party was not able to make the breakthrough it had hoped for in the capital city.
“Under any other circumstances, we’d be pretty happy with 45 per cent of the popular vote,” McFadyen said. “This is a situation where you get 45 per cent of the vote and only a small increase in seats.”
Premier Greg Selinger’s victory was validation in his first campaign as party leader since taking over from Gary Doer in 2009. Selinger won his riding of St. Boniface in central Winnipeg, handily winning over PC rival Frank Clark.
Selinger had a message for the Liberal and Tory leaders: “We may not agree on everything but one thing we do agree on is Manitoba is one of the best places in the world and it’s worth fighting for. That’s what we did this election.”
“Today Manitobans went to the ballot box and they voted for optimism,” Selinger said Tuesday. “I’ve never been more proud of our party.”
“We will govern for all Manitobans,” he said.
Liberal leader Jon Gerrard was re-elected in River Heights, despite the fact that he was trailing in early returns in the central Winnipeg riding.
It was a satisfying win for Selinger, given that prospects looked bleak for the party earlier this year.
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.
One NDP ad included a photo of a scared little girl curled up in her mother’s arms with the question: “Can your family risk Hugh McFadyen and the PCs?”
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.
The NDP and Liberals promised to balance the budget by 2014, while the Tories said they would take until 2018 to avoid tax increases.
The leaders fought to occupy the political centre in a bid to capture the middle-class suburban seats that usually determine Manitoba elections.
One of the few major policy differences was over a massive hydroelectric transmission line, now in the planning stages, that is to bring power from northern dams to homes and businesses in the south.
Manitoba Hydro wanted to build a direct line through the boreal forest along the east side of Lake Winnipeg. But the NDP ordered the Crown corporation to reroute the line to the western edge of the province, making it hundreds of kilometres longer and hundreds of millions of dollars more expensive.
The Tories campaigned on a promise to revert to the original route, but the NDP said that line would threaten a fragile ecosystem and be blocked by aboriginal groups in court.
Gerrard spent much of the campaign fending off attacks not from his rivals, but from fellow Liberals. One week before the election, one 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.