CONSERVATIVE Leader Brian Pallister must be buoyed by the result of the Fort Whyte byelection Tuesday -- not just because he won it handily, but because the Liberal finished a strong second, far outpacing the distant third-place NDP candidate.
Mr. Pallister's win was an important second step in the long journey to the next provincial election in three years (the first step was winning the leadership by acclamation). He is now the leader of the official Opposition, with a seat on the front bench in the legislature from which he can begin to make an impact on the debate about Manitoba's future.
Some argue Mr. Pallister shouldn't wait until the legislature resumes sitting; that he should now be articulating policy that contrasts with policies of the Selinger government.
But why? What's the rush?
On Wednesday, for example, he was content to simply allow his election victory to sink in. He named his shadow cabinet, signalling he has a strong team and he declared he wants to work with it and with Manitobans in general to create policies "that will earn support to form government."
He also said his intention is to "hold the government accountable," which is another way of saying a government as long in the tooth as is the NDP likely will paint some big bull's-eyes for him.
Already, for example, Mr. Pallister is on the right side of the hydro issue, demanding a public review of the government's increasingly questionable $18-billion plan to expand generation at a time of shrinking market demand. More of these opportunities will avail themselves in the coming months and years.
Of course, it might be Mr. Pallister doesn't have any ideas and he will perform badly in the legislature.
Time will tell. But at this juncture, slow and steady seems a good pace.
It is also a good to analyze what happened in the byelection Tuesday. Liberal Bob Axworthy won 32 per cent of the vote while New Democrat Brandy Schmidt attracted just 11 per cent. That result is almost an exact reversal of what had occurred in Fort Whyte in three previous elections. Liberal growth came almost entirely at the expense of the NDP, which is what traditionally happens in Manitoba -- the stronger the Liberals, the weaker the NDP.
As they say, however, one swallow does not a spring make. But Mr. Axworthy's strong showing indicates there might be life yet for the Liberals with the right leadership.
Mr. Pallister is wise to continue to allow events to evolve.