Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pallister takes Fort Whyte

-- Maintains Tories' firm grip on riding -- Liberal comes in a respectable second

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He cakewalked through the Progressive Conservative party leadership race as the lone candidate and crushed the competition in Tuesday night's Fort Whyte byelection.

Now, the work begins for Brian Pallister.

He's got to convince the rest of the province he should be the next premier of Manitoba.

"You can't build if you don't have a good foundation," Pallister told his supporters. "Everybody understands that. Our foundation is a solid one. The Progressive Conservative Party has been there when Manitoba needed it for a long, long time."

Pallister declined to take questions and his handlers said he'll talk more today on how he'll rebuild the PC Party.

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The outcome of the vote was closer than expected. Pallister received 2,897 votes, Liberal candidate Bob Axworthy got 1,854 votes and the NDP's Brandy Schmidt finished a distant third with 631 votes -- with 53 of 54 polls reporting by 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Schmidt, 30, knew going into the race 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.

Schmidt, a 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.

Axworthy nipped at Pallister's heels early in the vote count and finished a respectable 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."

The victory means the 58-year-old Pallister will have a front-row seat in the legislature when Premier Greg Selinger's NDP government recalls the house this fall.

The NDP has been in power since 1999.

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 he would step down as leader. McFadyen's resignation as Fort Whyte MLA took effect July 30.

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.

Though he doesn't live in the constituency, that didn't seem to bother the majority of 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.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Fort Whyte byelection:

Based on 53 of 54 voting stations reporting

CANDIDATE   PARTY   VOTES

Pallister, Brian PC 2,897

Axworthy, Bob Liberal 1,854

Schmidt, Brandy NDP 631

Benham, Donnie H. J. Green 103

Ackman, Darrell Independent 18

6 rejected votes

0 declined votes

5,509 total votes cast

15,560 registered voters (does not include voters added to the voters list after advance voting)

35.40 percentage of voter turnout

-- source: Elections Manitoba

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 5, 2012 A3

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