Despite a Senate expenses scandal that has dogged the party for weeks, the Conservatives won the Provencher by-election in a cakewalk Monday.
Political rookie Ted Falk, president and chairman of Steinbach Credit Union, is heading to Ottawa to represent the southeastern Manitoba riding formerly held by Vic Toews, who resigned in July.
Falk, 53, handily defeated Liberal Terry Hayward in what was essentially a two-person race. NDP candidate Natalie Courcelles Beaudry, who works for provincial NDP cabinet minister Ron Lemieux, and the Green party’s Janine Gibson finished well back.
With half the polls reporting, Falk had captured 56 per cent of the vote when he accepted the cheers of more than 100 well wishers at the Steinbach Legion.
"First of all, I want to thank my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ my saviour for giving me this opportunity to serve you here," he said. "I feel very blessed in many ways."
The Senate expenses scandal and Falk’s lack of political experience were probably the main reasons for a reduced margin of victory for the Conservatives. Toews, a federal cabinet minister and the party’s power broker in Manitoba, won more than 70 per cent of the vote in the 2011 general election.
Falk, who won his party’s nomination by acclamation after several potential candidates bowed out, ran a low-key, risk-avoidance campaign, content to press the flesh door to door, while eschewing all-candidates debates and limiting media interviews.
Hayward finished a distant third in Provencher in 2011, with less than seven per cent of the vote. This time he was buoyed by a resurgent Liberal party under new leader Justin Trudeau, finishing a respectable, albeit distant, second.
Although he tended to shy away from Winnipeg-based media, an interview Falk granted to the Steinbach Carillon recently drew broad attention when he suggested that Steinbach high school student Evan Wiens, an advocate for gay-straight alliances, may have staged an incident at which other students hurled homophobic slurs at him as he spoke to reporters in front of his school last winter.
He refused to comment further when asked about it Monday night.
Falk is married with three adult children and five grandkids. He and his wife Irene are members of Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church, where Falk serves on the leadership team.
He told reporters afterwards that he got an earful about the Senate scandal as he campaigned door to door. Falk said he favours an elected senate. He said he hopes the country can soon put the scandal behind it "and get on with running the country."
He also said he wants to see a responsible government with "a high degree of integrity and honesty."
High winds and poor highway visibility likely kept many people from attending the Tory party.
But Falk's 82-year-old mother Jessie Falk, who has terminal cancer, was on hand to cheer on her son.