A Winnipeg businessman and former pro football player is the new MLA for Fort Whyte, although his election Tuesday night was accomplished by the tightest of margins.
Obby Khan, the Progressive Conservative candidate, defeated Liberal Willard Reaves — himself a former football star — by only 197 votes, in a riding that has been Tory blue since its inception.
In an interview with Global News, Khan acknowledged that the close election means his party — led by Canada’s least popular premier, according to recent polling — needs to do more to regain Manitobans’ support.
“It’s a message that the people of Fort Whyte sent not only me, but the party as well, that we need to get better,” Khan said.
“This has been a stronghold for the PCs and a 200-vote win tells us that people are concerned, people have their worries … and I heard this at the door over and over again, this isn’t anything new.
“We have to get better, we have to listen to the people, we have to work with them, we have to address the issues coming out of COVID.”
Khan said he’s looking forward to meeting with his constituents and hearing their opinions and concerns.
A Manitoba political scientist says the byelection’s unusually (for that riding) tight race is a sign of voters’ frustration with Premier Heather Stefanson’s government.
“The governing (Progressive) Conservatives are in trouble,” Brandon University’s Kelly Saunders told 680 CJOB.
“Certainly, they managed to hold onto this seat, which is an important win for them, but just how tight it was and how close it came really speaks to the dissatisfaction that a lot of voters have with the PC government.”
Saunders said Manitobans are frustrated with the pandemic itself, but also with the government has handled it — and continues to handle it.
According to data from the federal government, Manitoba has had the second-highest per-capita pandemic death rate in the country, and during a spike in cases last spring, dozens of intensive care patients were sent to other provinces to free up bed space.
Saunders said missteps were expected at the beginning of the pandemic, but not after living through it for the past two years.
“Let’s not forget that our current premier was a former minister of health, so she’s been at the forefront of the entire pandemic response on the part of the PC government. That excuse is wearing a little thin.
“There’s still a long road to go, and I think a lot of voters are feeling they can’t trust this government to get us through to the very end.”
Stefanson, who has had a rocky start to her term in power, said her government needs to work with Manitobans to bring people together again after a rocky start, acknowledging Manitobans have expressed their anger on a number of issues.
“There’s a long road ahead of us,” Stefanson told 680 CJOB’s The Start.
“We’re going through the pandemic — two years of this — and people are tired, exhausted, and they’re looking for places to lay some blame.”