Manitoba NDP forced to rebuild after big election loss

After almost 17 years in government, Manitoba's New Democrats are forced to look at how to rebuild the party, while moving forward as the opposition, following their devastating election loss to the Progressive Conservatives on Tuesday.

NDP caucus reduced from 35 seats to 14 in Tuesday's provincial election

Outgoing NDP Leader Greg Selinger speaks to reporters after meeting with premier-designate Brian Pallister on Wednesday afternoon. (CBC)

After almost 17 years in government, Manitoba's New Democrats are forced to look at how to rebuild the party, while moving forward as the opposition, following their devastating election loss to the Progressive Conservatives on Tuesday.

The NDP caucus has been reduced to 14 seats, down from the 35 seats it held before Tuesday's provincial election.

It lost 12 candidates who served in cabinet, leaving only four incumbents re-elected: Kevin Chief, James Allum, Mohindar Saran and outgoing leader Greg Selinger.

The NDP now becomes the Official Opposition — a drastic shift for the party, given it held four back-to-back majority governments dating back to 1999.

"When people make a decision you should honour and respect that. People made a decision last night about who they wanted as the government and I fully support that," Selinger told reporters after he met with premier-designate Brian Pallister on Wednesday.

Selinger added that while he is stepping down as NDP leader, he will stay on as the MLA for St. Boniface.

"A good team usually has a mix of rookies, mid-career folks and veterans that work together, and so the opportunity is for people to work together and put forward a good program and be a responsible opposition," he said.

Other New Democrats were stinging from their election loss, including longtime cabinet ministers Eric Robinson and Steve Ashton, who lost in their respective constituencies in northern Manitoba.

Ashton told CBC News he would not make any public comments on Wednesday.

Manitoba political analyst Christopher Adams said the New Democrats lost a number of its strongholds, including those in Winnipeg and in the province's north, but it's not a complete loss.

"In many ways what we saw yesterday was saving the furniture. The NDP retreated to some of its core areas of support," Adams said.

"They've lost part of the north, which was a surprise … but at the same time they still retreated to the far north, parts of which they still hold, and they held on to some core working-class and lower-income neighbourhoods of Winnipeg."

Who's to blame?

The magnitude of the NDP's loss has some debating whether Selinger is to blame.

Dave Gaudreau, who lost in the St. Norbert constituency, told CBC News that Selinger "destroyed everything" and the party could have won if it had gone with a different leader.

But former Winnipeg NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis said it's not Selinger's fault.

"I think in the end it wasn't so much about leadership as it was about people wanting a change and sort of looking forward to some sort of new direction," she said.

Wasylycia-Leis added that the NDP did not run a strong ground campaign this time around, but she believes the party will rebuild like it did in 1988, when it had 12 seats.

In the meantime, she said the NDP, as opposition critics, will have to hold Pallister's government to account and ensure social programs remain intact.

"I think this was a very polarized election over those two visions of Manitoba, and in the end a vision for a government that wants to reduce the size of government and be less involved in programs that impact on people's daily lives won out," she said.

Adams said he believes the NDP can form a solid opposition, provided that it doesn't let the Liberals reorganize under a new leader and take over the centre-left.

"They've got some sitting MLAs who have experience and credibility and from those people they're going to want to launch a … very credible opposition. I think they will, even though they're down to 14 seats," he said.

While speculation has focused on who'll try out for the NDP leadership, at least two high-profile new MLAs say they're not thinking about that right now. Wab Kinew and Nahanni Fontaine said they are focused on learning the ropes as newly elected representatives.


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