Manitoba·Analysis

Conservatives, NDP pop the champagne as Winnipeggers appear to tire of Liberal idealism

It may seem surprising that Winnipeggers ushered Liberal MPs into every riding but one in an overwhelming red tide four years ago, then ousted nearly half of them at voters' next opportunity, but none of the eight seats in Manitoba's capital should be considered safe seats.

After a spotty campaign, Liberals could be happy they only lost 3 of their 7 Winnipeg seats

Former Winnipeg city councillor and new Conservative MP Marty Morantz pops the champagne at his campaign headquarters after dethroning Liberal Doug Eyolfson in their west Winnipeg riding. (Ian Froese/CBC)

It may seem surprising that Winnipeggers ushered Liberal MPs into every riding but one in an overwhelming red tide four years ago, then ousted nearly half of them at voters' next opportunity. 

But none of the eight seats in Manitoba's capital should be considered safe seats — every one of them has switched hands this decade. 

And considering the broken promises and scandals that plagued this Liberal government, which is now reduced to a minority, they might be thrilled they only lost three of their seven seats in Manitoba. 

Voters turfed former cabinet minister MaryAnn Mihychuk, as well as Doug Eyolfson and Robert-Falcon Ouellette, as the city began to show shades of blue again.

It's a return for the Conservatives in Winnipeg, who in 2015 lost all of the six seats they had held in the city.

The wins were cause for a modest celebration at the headquarters of Marty Morantz, the new member of Parliament for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley.

"I guess it's maybe time to party," the Conservative MP-to-be humbly suggested Monday night, while the standing-room-only crowd that crammed his campaign office hollered with a more forceful approval.

As Winnipeg goes, so goes Canada 

Winnipeg has often served as a mirror reflecting the feelings of a nation, and that was again true Monday as the inroads the Conservatives made nationally were reflected in the seats they took in Winnipeg. 

In addition to Morantz's election, Raquel Dancho, a former policy analyst for the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives, was elected in place of Mihychuk in Kildonan-St. Paul.

But while the NDP lost seats nationwide, they gained in Winnipeg, with Leah Gazan inspiring the progressive vote to side with her over Ouellette, taking back the historically New Democratic Winnipeg Centre for her party.

Leah Gazan helped the NDP win back Winnipeg Centre. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The NDP's Daniel Blaikie, who won Elmwood-Transcona by just 61 votes in 2015, kept the riding with a persuasive 3,000 vote margin.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives held firmly onto their five southern Manitoba seats, while the NDP's Niki Ashton handily kept her northern Manitoba riding despite a challenge from former Liberal MLA Judy Klassen.

Winnipeggers are a centrist, pragmatic bunch, and they, too, were swept in 2015 by a surge of Trudeaumania, and the potential the governance of Justin Trudeau brought for liberalism and inclusivity. He promised change after nine years of Conservative Stephen Harper's government. 

But again and again, Trudeau made headlines for the wrong reasons.

The nation thought he was a feminist, but then he dismissed a female attorney general.

The nation thought he was an environmentalist, but then he bought a pipeline.

The nation thought he was a champion of diversity, but then it was revealed he had covered his face in blackface and brownface years ago, and didn't answer how many times he's played offensive dress-up. 

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau addresses media in Winnipeg the day after his brownface photos were first revealed. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

It was always going to be tough for Trudeau to achieve his utopian promises, but the frequency with which his government over promised and under delivered appeared to frustrate many, including Manitobans.

It seems Manitobans saw reasonableness in the Conservative platform, and the party either won seats or narrowed the gap in many Winnipeg ridings.

The Conservatives under Andrew Scheer didn't make massive promises. They pledged to scrap the carbon tax. They offered tax cuts and tax credits.

In a middle-of-the-road province that treats pragmatic solutions as a positive, that matters.

Realistic promises

Their promises weren't grand, but attainable. For enough Manitobans, who a month earlier supported a provincial government that governed within its financial means, it was enough to switch the tides.

The NDP must be thrilled by their advances in this province, buoyed by disenfranchised Liberal supporters. Gazan garnered impressive support — nearly 900 people attended her nomination meeting, which demonstrated the appeal in her candidacy.

And Blaikie didn't just win, a result which seemed unlikely to some observers, but he won far more convincingly than many expected.   

On the ground, local Liberal candidates weren't exactly helped by their brass in Ottawa.

The only visit Trudeau paid to Winnipeg, until a rushed rally in the dying hours of the campaign, was less than 24 hours after his first brownface photos were posted far and wide.

Willingly or not, his candidates stood behind a solemn-faced Trudeau, as their leader apologized in front of the world. For some of them, their re-election hopes sagged in the process.

They weren't helped either by how often their government butted heads with Pallister's.

Months ago, Adam Vaughan, a Liberal MP in Ontario, lambasted the province on a national call-in radio show for "refusing to take federal dollars" in a multibillion-dollar public housing strategy. A deal eventually was signed, but the Liberals lost the opportunity to get shovels in the ground, and the corresponding good press, before the fall vote.

Federal money languished

Then there were the hundreds of millions of dollars that Ottawa set aside for public transit, green infrastructure and recreation centres — all of which the province was slow to act on. The delay left Winnipeg Liberals with few accomplishments to show for themselves as they campaigned for re-election.

There were flashes of the Liberal brand's enduring appeal as the campaign wore on. It was no Trudeaumania, but they literally pushed back the walls to cram in supporters at a rally at the Punjab Cultural Centre in Winnipeg, where dividers were shoved aside to enlarge the room.

And credit to returning Liberal MPs Jim Carr, Dan Vandal, Terry Duguid and Kevin Lamoureux, who survived tough challengers.

If the races in Winnipeg demonstrated anything, it is the importance of getting results in a city where no riding is safe.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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