Manitoba election: Future of provincial NDP unclear after 'heartbreaking' loss to PCs

The NDP’s loss Tuesday marks the end of a nearly 17-year stretch in office in Manitoba — so what now?

Greg Selinger resigns as leader, NDP ousted after nearly 17 years in office

Greg Selinger resigned Tuesday after the NDP was ousted from government by the Progressive Conservatives. (CBC)

The NDP's loss Tuesday marks the end of a nearly 17-year stretch in office in Manitoba — so what now?

The fortune of the party remains unclear after being ousted from government by Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives.

'Heartbreaking night'

"There's no point in sugar coating it, this is a heartbreaking night for New Democrats," former rebel cabinet minister Theresa Oswald said Tuesday, moments after CBC News first projected a Progressive Conservative majority around 8:30 p.m. CT.

The New Democrats were elected in 14 constituencies on Tuesday, compared to the Tories' 40 and three for the Liberals.

This is the first time since 1999 the NDP has held less than 32 seats Legislative Assembly of Manitoba.

Oswald said the party has been struggling to regain support among voters since the "surprise" PST hike in 2013.

"We know that the PCs were ahead of us for the last three years," said Oswald, who narrowly lost a leadership bid against Selinger in 2015. "I think this election was about trust and openness. And Manitobans have sent us a message tonight. We need to take that seriously, we need to reach out to them and build that trust anew."

'Well-executed campaign'

Despite these numbers, the party ran "an excellent, well-executed campaign," Selinger told reporters Tuesday after resigning as party leader.

Greg Selinger resigns as NDP leader

6 years ago
Duration 2:35
Greg Selinger has resigned as leader of the NDP, as the party's nearly 17-year stretch in government came to an end Tuesday night.

The party ran on a platform of infrastructure promises, pledges to improve health care and access to post-secondary education, among other targets.

The New Democrats vowed to invest more than $1 billion annually on roads and bridges (as did the PCs), remove red lights and introduce overpasses along the Perimeter Highway, and come up with a plan to move all rail lines in Winnipeg outside city limits.

Selinger vowed to cut ambulance fees in half (as did Pallister), increase the number of quick care clinics to relieve pressure on hospital emergency rooms and create 1,000 new personal care home beds if re-elected.
Manitoba NDP Leader Greg Selinger votes in the provincial election in Winnipeg, Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Canadian Press/John Woods)

The NDP also planned to turn student loans into grants and give students with a history of having been in the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services free tuition up to the age of 25.

Selinger also committed to add 12,000 new child-care spaces in Manitoba, hike taxes on the rich and run a deficit until at least 2021.

On the offensive

On the offensive end, Selinger attempted to raise doubts about Pallister, alleging the PC leader intends to privatize parts of health care and Crown corporations like Manitoba Hydro — a tactic the NDP also used against the PCs in the 2011 election.

But the party struggled to reunify after Selinger pushed through the provincial sales tax hike in 2013 (in 2011, he claimed he wouldn't raise the PST). It led to a slump in opinion polls, party infighting, a revolt that saw five cabinet ministers challenge Selinger's leadership and ultimately resign in protest.

During Selinger's time as finance minister under Gary Doer, he helped balance the budget for 10 years in a row. In the past five years with Selinger as premier, the province's net debt rose from $12.5 billion to $20.4 billion.

In the lead-up to the election, political analysts like Royce Koop noted that Selinger's "unpopularity" with voters would play a significant role in the outcome of the election.

Selinger came away with another win in his constituency of St. Boniface Tuesday, with more than 1,000 votes between he and his next closest competitor in PC candidate Mamadou Ka. Selinger has held the seat since 1999.

Kinew sticking by Selinger

As far as the NDP is concerned, the PCs' campaign focused on reminding voters of Selinger's so-called "broken promises" in 2013 and issues of "camaraderie" within the party in the wake of the PST increase.

Former broadcaster Wab Kinew, who won the Fort Rouge constituency, said it's too early to speculate on the future of the party. Despite all the criticism against Selinger, Kinew said he intends to stand by him.

"I'm personally someone who is loyal to premier [sic] Greg Selinger," he said, adding Selinger attended his father's funeral. "We are a party of Jack Layton, a party of Tommy Douglas, a party of Stephen Lewis and I think that those values will carry this party forward.

'Future of Manitoba is bright'

In the coming weeks and months, Selinger said the party will come together to review what went wrong and work to regain the support of Manitobans.

Selinger said the NDP has left a "strong base" for the PCs, with a commitment to tolerance, diversity, and "the lowest unemployment rate in the country and one of the best job creation rates."

"I believe the future of Manitoba is bright, and we will as an opposition work with the government to move it forward, and we will also hold them to account for their promises, as they have done us."

As the NDP pick up the pieces, one thing the party faithful are likely to focus on is how to restore trust with voters — a chunk of whom cast support behind the PCs for the first time in years.

As for who might be a front-runner as the next party leader? Political scientist Paul Thomas has a guess.

"In days to come we'll begin to speculate about the future leadership of the New Democratic Party, and Kevin Chief's name will come up right away, I would think," he said.

For CBC's full coverage of the provincial election, see Manitoba Votes 2016.

With files from the Canadian Press


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