Brian Pallister's Manitoba PCs win record-breaking victory

The Progressive Conservatives won a big majority government in last night's Manitoba election, ousting the incumbent NDP from all but their northern and Winnipeg strongholds.

After starting campaign with promise, Manitoba Liberals flounder by election night

Manitoba PC Leader Brian Pallister hugs his daughters as he enter his party's election victory party in Winnipeg, Tuesday. Pallister's Progressive Conservatives routed Premier Greg Selinger and the NDP to put an end to nearly 17 years of orange power. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

The Manitoba Progressive Conservatives under Brian Pallister won a majority government in a historic fashion Tuesday night, putting up some of the biggest numbers by any party in the province's history.

In the process, the PCs ended the long reign of the Manitoba New Democrats, in office since 1999, as the NDP's vote collapsed in every part of the province.

The PC victory was significant. The party captured 40 seats and 53 per cent of the vote, its best performance in modern history. Under its current moniker, the previous record for the Tories had been 36 seats in 1962 and 49 per cent of the vote in 1977. The last time the old Conservative Party in Manitoba took a majority of ballots cast was over a century ago.

As expected, the Tories did very well in rural Manitoba, taking 67 per cent of the vote and 23 seats outside of Winnipeg. With that many seats, the PCs only needed six more in Winnipeg to form a majority government. They won 17.

They were aided in Winnipeg by the performance of the Liberals, who drew about as many votes away from the New Democrats as the PCs did. Outside of Winnipeg, however, the PCs captured the lion's share of the NDP's losses, sweeping central Manitoba and putting up big numbers in the southern portion of the province. The PCs even won more of the vote in northern Manitoba, a traditional stronghold for the NDP that the party had won by 23 points in 2011.

NDP losses across the board

The New Democrats suffered serious losses in support in every part of the province. In fact, their loss was broadly uniform — the NDP dropped 16 points in southern Manitoba, 18 points in northern Manitoba, 19 points in Winnipeg, and 22 points in the central part of the province.

This uniform loss cost them many seats, and pushed the New Democrats outside of the rural areas of the province almost entirely. The NDP now only holds seats in Winnipeg and northern Manitoba.

However, with 14 seats and 26 per cent of the vote, last night was not a historically bad performance for the New Democrats. The party captured just 12 seats and 24 per cent of the vote in 1988 in Gary Doer's first election as leader.

Local names lift Liberals

Two of the three seats won by the Liberals were largely the work of well-known local candidates. Former party leader Jon Gerrard was re-elected in his riding of River Heights, which he has held since 1999. Cindy Lamoureux, daughter of Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, won the riding of Burrows. 

Apart from a surprise victory in the NDP stronghold of Kewatinook by Judy Klassen, the Liberals did not take more than one-third of the vote in any other riding, a disappointing showing for a party that was vying for the role of Official Opposition at the campaign's start.

But the Liberals may have had a different impact. About a half-dozen NDP incumbent MLAs were defeated by smaller margins than the share of the vote captured by third-place Liberal candidates.

Polls forecast the race

Four polls were conducted in the last days of the campaign, after last week's leaders' debate. Together, these four polls averaged 52 per cent for the PCs, 24 per cent for the NDP, 14.5 per cent for the Liberals, and 8.5 per cent for the Greens.

Apart from an overestimation of Green support — understandable considering the party only ran a half-slate of candidates — these numbers aligned closely with the election's results. 

But that the results came in about as expected should not take away from the significance of Brian Pallister's victory. He set new modern records for a party in Manitoba, and ends the rule of the longest-serving provincial government in the country. 

However, with Greg Selinger's approval ratings over the last few years plumbing new depths, the election may have been more a referendum on Selinger's leadership than a verdict on the strength of Pallister's campaign. The biggest challenges for Manitoba's incoming premier are yet to come.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.