Fort Whyte stays Tory blue in a squeaker

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The Fort Whyte byelection went down to the wire with two former Winnipeg Blue Bombers neck and neck.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/03/2022 (196 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Fort Whyte byelection went down to the wire with two former Winnipeg Blue Bombers neck and neck.

In the end, Progressive Conservative candidate Obby Khan beat his closest rival, the Liberals’ Willard Reaves in what had been considered a safe Tory seat.

At deadline, with all 56 polls counted, Khan had 3,050 votes to Reaves’ 2,853. NDP candidate Trudy Schroeder finished a distant third with 1,112 votes. Independent candidate Patrick Allard and Nicolas Geddert for the Green Party finished a distant fourth and fifth, with 101 and 55 votes respectively.

Obby Khan celebrates his win in the Fort Whyte byelection with Premier Heather Stefanson at the PC party headquarters on Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Throughout the night, most of the PC caucus was packed into Khan’s campaign headquarters on Scurfield Boulevard, glued to the Elections Manitoba website as updated results showed the two former Bombers jockeying for first place. Three hours after the polls closed at 8 p.m., Elections Manitoba’s online results were still trickling in.

At one point, the agency reported Khan had 1,953 votes to Reaves’ 1,921. Then Reaves was ahead of Khan. In a later update, the vote count declined for both candidates, but still reported Khan in the lead with 54 polls reporting.

The unofficial result was finally posted at 11:15 p.m. By 11:30 p.m., in front of a cheering and relieved crowd, Khan appeared with Premier Heather Stefanson at his side.

“Certainly, it was very close,” Stefanson told reporters in a scrum. The byelection marked the first time Manitoba voters had been able to cast a ballot since the PC party elected her as its leader allowing her to become premier, and the first time Fort Whyte’s PC candidate hasn’t won with at least 50 per cent of the vote.

“I think people have come out of COVID, people are really angry right now about a number of things,” she said when asked why it was such a tight race. Her government has a “lot of work to do ahead in many different areas,” she said. The premier was ready to savour the byelection win after a rough week of criticism and turn the page.

“Today is a new day. Tomorrow is a new day. We’re going to work with Manitobans ahead of the next election and do everything we can to earn their trust,” Stefanson said.

“This victory tonight is really because we have this fantastic candidate in Obby Khan, that we had our volunters out working in the community, and we never, ever took it for granted.”

Khan said he stayed off the emotional rollercoaster of watching byelection updates throughout the night and waited for the final result. It was a squeaker but Khan said he was honoured and humbled to get elected, becoming Manitoba’s first Muslim-Canadian MLA.

“Whether you win by one point or one goal or one vote or 100 votes or a thousand votes, a win’s a win,” he told reporters, after thanking his supporters including his nine-year-old son Sufiyan Morrish-Khan who was up past his bedtime to see his dad win.

The newly-minted member for Fort Whyte said it was a tight race because voters were sending a message to government “loud and clear: that we have a lot of work to do.” On the campaign trail he heard Manitobans frustrations with the pandemic, the surgical backlog, the economy and care for seniors, Khan said.

“All that was shown tonight in the voting. I look forward to taking those challenges forward and working to fix those.”

Reaves was waiting at Centro Caboto Centre for the results. In an interview late Tuesday before the winner was known, he said his close finish in the PC stronghold was the result of his hitting the campaign trail early and hard.

The Liberals had the most to gain from winning the byelection. With just three elected members of the legislature and four needed for party-status recognition and the resources that come with it, a Reaves win would have given them official party status in the house.

Khan said Reaves called to congratulate him and the the two former pro athletes had a “great conversation.”

“Elections are tough. Competitions are tough,” said Khan. “When it’s all said and done, Willard and I have played in hundreds of football games. You always go across the field and shake hands and give the other guy a hug then you go have a drink with him,” said Khan. “I look forward to doing that with Willard and the other candidates. “

Khan will be taking over the surburban Winnipeg seat vacated when former premier Brian Pallister resigned as an MLA in October.

In 2019, turnout for the affluent constituency was just over 60 per cent. Pallister received 5,619 of the 9,889 votes cast, with the NDP and Liberals finishing a distant second and third, receiving 1,757 and 1,731 votes respectively.

In Tuesday’s byelection, voter turnout was 46 per cent.

On voting day outside of the polling place at Linden Woods Community Centre, most casting a ballot who were willing to talk said they voted for the candidate rather than the party and that their candidate of choice was Khan.

“I’m impressed with his business experience,” said a woman who would only identify herself as a business teacher.

“Obby came to our door and he talked to me about what he wanted to do,” said one young man voting with a friend who appreciated the former Blue Bomber making contact.

A middle-aged man and woman said they were voting for the person, rather than the party.

“We’re hoping Obby will take it,” the man said.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Willard Reaves watches results come in at his party HQ in the Fort Whyte by-election, Tuesday.

The race was seen by many to be a report card for Stefanson and the governing Tories who polls have indicated lag behind the NDP.

Fort Whyte resident Sheri Skwarchuk said her vote was “anti-PC”.

“Pallister never returned phone calls and now we have a premier who wasn’t elected by the people,” she said.

“I’m not satisfied with the government,” said Skwarchuk. Much of her dissatisfaction comes from the growing surgical backlog in Manitoba, she said. “I’ve got a family member waiting for surgery and that’s tough.” She said deciding where to place her protest vote was difficult.

“Trudy Schroeder had more experience but Willard Reaves came to my house a couple of times,” Skwarchuk said. “Both of those people live in the area. Those are big selling points for me. They know what I’m experiencing,” she said after two terms of having Pallister — who lived in a Wellington Crescent mansion — as her MLA. In the end, she said she decided to vote NDP.

A 22-year-old man, who would only give his age, said he was likely voting for the Manitoba Liberals – not because of the candidate, but because he hoped that they would gain party status in the legislature.

Manitobans will go to the polls in another byelection in the coming months. One is due to be held on or before June 7 to fill the seat vacated in Thompson after NDP MLA Danielle Adams was killed in a highway accident in December.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 23, 2022 12:43 AM CDT: Updates main photo

Updated on Wednesday, March 23, 2022 6:05 AM CDT: Updates with final write-through, removes photo

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