Tory Leader Brian Pallister won the Fort Whyte byelection in convincing style last night leaving the competition in the dust.
Only rival Liberal Bob Axworthy managed to nip at his heels early in the vote count.
Pallister finished with 2,450 votes; Aworthy 1,620 votes. The NDP finished a distant third with 548 votes with 50 of 54 polls reporting.
The victory means the 58-year-old Pallister will have a front-row seat in the legislature when the Premier Greg Selinger’s NDP government recalls the House this fall.
It also means Pallister now has his work cut out for him if he wants to convince the rest of the province that he should be Manitoba’s next premier. The NDP have been in power since 1999.
"I’m deeply honored to have the opportunity to represent the great people of Fort Whyte," Pallister said in a short victory speech to his supporters. "I really appreciate their support very much, but I must tell all of them that tomorrow morning I will represent everyone in Fort Whyte to the best of my ability as if they were a supporter."
Pallister has time on his side as the next provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 6, 2015. Should Canada see a federal election at the same time, however, Manitobans will instead go to the polls April 19, 2016.
Pallister was the lone candidate for his party’s leadership. He assumed the post on July 30. He replaced Hugh McFadyen, who announced immediately following the Conservatives’ poor showing in last October’s general election that he would step down as leader. McFadyen resignation as Fort Whyte MLA took effect July 30.
Liberal candidate Bob Axworthy took consolation at finishing second.
"The results aren't over but we beat the NDP tonight," he told a small but noisy reception at the Caboto Centre.
"We showed Manitobans what a true Liberal party can do in this province. And we will continue to do that."
Pallister’s win comes as no surprise as voters in Fort Whyte have consistently, if not overwhelmingly, voted Tory since the riding was created in 1999.
Pallister doesn’t live in the constituency, but that didn’t bother most Fort Whyte voters.
Pallister and his wife Esther live in neighbouring Charleswood with their two daughters, Quinn and Shawn.
He’s also no stranger to politics. He was an MLA and cabinet minister in former premier Gary Filmon’s PC government until 1997 and served as an MP for Portage-Lisgar before resigning in 2008 to focus on his family and financial business.
Pallister’s website says before he left office he championed legislation to protect the rights of women on First Nations, public safety initiatives for railway cars, guidelines to empower employee service improvements and balanced budget legislation to protect taxpayers.
Before politics, he was a high school teacher in Gladstone and served as union rep for the Manitoba Teachers Society.
An avid curler, his rink won the Manitoba mixed curling championship in 2000.
NDP candidate Brandy Schmidt, 30, finished a distant third. She said she knew going into the race that she was in for a tough fight.
"We knew it was a Conservative riding coming in. We were just looking to have a strong showing and to show the folks that there was a choice," she said after speaking to a gathering of close to 100 NDP supporters at a restaurant in the constituency.
The former community engagement manager for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada in Manitoba said she would be willing to represent her party again in a future election.