Manitobans gave Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister one of the province’s most resounding victories in decades, handing Greg Selinger defeat and ending nearly 17 years of NDP rule.
The NDP has dominated politics in the province since the 1960s but Mr. Selinger struggled during his seven years as premier, facing down a caucus revolt and pushing through an unpopular sales-tax hike.
The Tories won a commanding victory on Tuesday, taking seats in areas where the party hasn’t been close to victory in decades. The PC’s also won more than half of the popular vote.
“The only thing better than tonight in Manitoba, is tomorrow,” Mr. Pallister told his party, celebrating the end of years in opposition.
“Manitoba is not a have-not province,” he said. “We’re a have province waiting to happen.”
Mr. Selinger resigned as NDP leader after the results came in. “I do take responsibility for the election outcome,” he said.
The loss caps a difficult period for Canada’s NDP, which fell to third place in last fall’s federal election and saw federal leader Tom Mulcair lose a leadership review in early April. Alberta’s Rachel Notley is now Canada’s sole remaining NDP premier.
Seeking a fifth consecutive majority for his party, Mr. Selinger went into the election at a deep disadvantage – his New Democrats had trailed the Tories in polls since 2012.
“It’s such a decisive and overwhelming victory, the people have chosen a new direction and a positive tone in government,” said Mike Richards, the former president of the PC party and Mr. Pallister’s spokesman.
The conservatives celebrated the end to their long stint in opposition at a hotel near Winnipeg’s airport. With blue and white balloons hanging from the rafters, Tory MLA Ralph Eichler celebrated a fourth victory in his riding, but the first where his party took power. “I’ve been training for 13 years, I’m ready to move up to the next level,” he said.
A number of senior NDP cabinet ministers lost their seats, including the finance, health and agriculture ministers. NDP campaign director Jeremy Read said the party was fighting a desire for change. “We went into this campaign knowing that we were running from behind,” he said.
The Manitoba election wasn’t a contest of leaders. Both Mr. Selinger and Mr. Pallister became less popular over the course of the campaign, polls showed.
Mr. Selinger lost the trust of his province in April, 2013, after breaking his promise not to hike sales taxes. Speaking with The Globe before election day, he blamed opposition ads for keeping Manitobans angry at him about the increase.
Mr. Pallister is a financial analyst by training, but he has served in federal and provincial politics for two decades. He was a provincial minister in the mid-90s during the last Tory government in the province. Despite his time in politics, observers have said that Mr. Pallister can be an awkward speaker.
He also lost voters’ trust during the campaign over misstatements. While he told Manitobans as opposition leader that he had been at a family wedding during major floods, he was actually at a vacation home he owns in Costa Rica.
Mr. Selinger went into the election looking for a policy debate between his pledge to build more infrastructure and his opponent’s promise to cut taxes and waste. Instead, the two men fought for over a month in a campaign filled with personal attacks and hyperbole. In the last hours of the election, both leaders said they were disappointed in the other man.
The size of Mr. Selinger’s defeat comes partly from the NDP’s move to the left of the political spectrum under his premiership, according to Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba.
Former NDP premier Gary Doer kept the party tied to the centre for his decade in power, from 1999 to 2009. He reduced income taxes and posted a string of balanced budgets – turning in a surplus every year but one. While Mr. Doer was constrained, Mr. Selinger has instead embraced bigger deficits, sidestepping balanced-budget rules once considered sacrosanct.
The outgoing premier has shattered the electoral coalition that made the NDP Manitoba’s default choice since 1969, according to Prof. Thomas.
“It’s a realigning election. Since [a] breakthrough election in 1969 the NDP has built a broad coalition and they’ve become in their mind the province’s natural governing party. They’ve only had four leaders since the 1960s and they’ve all been premier,” he said.
After nearly 17 years in power, the party was carrying too much baggage, he added. And now the collection of women, environmentalists, aboriginals, tradespeople and the working poor who once voted solidly orange have moved on.
Premier-designate Pallister has committed the Tories to lowering the PST by one percentage point – undoing Mr. Selinger’s increase – and indexing tax brackets to inflation. He’s also pledged to join the New West Partnership trade agreement with other western provinces.
WINNIPEG — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Apr. 19, 2016 8:01PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Apr. 20, 2016 6:58AM EDT