Klein pulls off narrow victory for PCs in Kirkfield Park byelection
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In a fierce battle that came down to the wire, Kevin Klein managed to hang on to Kirkfield Park in a desperately needed victory for the bruised Progressive Conservatives and party leader Heather Stefanson.
The byelection contest was decided by a margin of just 160 votes, according to unofficial results from Elections Manitoba.
Klein received 2,356 votes (36.9 per cent) to runner-up New Democrat Logan Oxenham’s 2,196 votes (34.4 per cent).
Klein, 57, squeaked out the win in the suburban west Winnipeg riding, parts of which he used to represent during a four-year term as city councillor that ended with an unsuccessful run for Winnipeg mayor.
Supporters, volunteers, and PC MLAs who gathered at the Holiday Inn Airport West hotel watched anxiously as early results rolled in, setting up the tight, three-way race between Klein, Oxenham and Liberal candidate Rhonda Nichol.
However, advance polls — which were counted by hand as Elections Manitoba suffered technical difficulties with its website — put Klein in the lead.
“I am very excited to get to work as quickly as possible,” said Klein, who celebrated the win with wife Heather as supporters waved blue pompoms and noise makers.
He thanked his campaign team, volunteers, PC MLAs and the residents of Kirkfield Park.
“I am very blessed that you have chosen me to support you,” Klein said.
According to Elections Manitoba, 17,468 people were registered to vote in the byelection, which was required after former PC cabinet minister Scott Fielding resigned in June.
Voter turnout was a meagre 36.48 per cent, with 6,372 votes cast, including 2,231 advance ballots.
Klein’s photo-finish buoyed the spirits of Tories in the banquet hall after recent polling showed the party continues to tumble ahead of the next general election, slated for Oct. 3, 2023.
A recent Probe Research poll found the Manitoba New Democrats would form government if the general election were held tomorrow, with 46 per cent of Manitobans supporting the party. Tory support meanwhile dropped two percentage points to 35 per cent, since the last poll was taken in September.
During the four-week campaign, Klein branded himself as an independent candidate unafraid to challenge the party and its leader if the values and expectations of Kirkfield Park residents are not met.
He was also the target of repeated attacks by the NDP and Liberals over his brief employment by fashion mogul Peter Nygard, an accused sex offender, a decade ago.
Political observers said a Tory loss would have been a strike against the government and discouraging to the party base.
Stefanson used the occasion to assure the crowd that Klein’s victory was “just the start” as she welcomed him into the caucus.
“They said it couldn’t be done,” the premier said, “but I will tell you, we made it happen because Kevin worked so hard, and all of you worked so incredibly hard, out there at those doors making sure we will never ever take anything for granted.”
“We will come to victory in 2023.”
From the NDP’s campaign office on Portage Avenue, Oxenham said the party is counting the second place result as a win.
“This has been a PC stronghold seat and for it to be incredibly close, and for us to run a strong campaign, it’s hard not to feel anything else but good about it,” Oxenham said.
The juvenile correction officer’s campaign focused on the health-system crisis and chaos at the Grace Hospital, with blame placed squarely on the PC government. He also appealed to Liberal supporters to vote strategically and flip the traditional Tory stronghold for the New Democrats.
Oxenham said he intends to run again in the general election.
Rookie politician and longtime nurse Rhonda Nichol, meanwhile, managed to buck the Liberals’ downward trend in the polls with 27.3 per cent of the vote, or 1,741 ballots, to finish third.
While her supporters appeared to resist calls to vote strategically, the loss means the party will not have official status heading into next year’s election.
Rounding out the contest was Green Party candidate Dennis Bayomi who earned 70 votes.
University of Manitoba political studies professor Royce Koop said close result raises questions for both the PCs and the NDP heading into the election: why didn’t the Tories pull out a big win in a safe seat, and why was the result razor-thin for the NDP, which is riding high in the polls?
“There were indications that all three parties had major strengths and so this would turn into a three-way race,” Koop said. “The fact that the results are so close mean it is a bit of a draw for the parties.”
Klein was able to perform as well as he did owing to his style of campaign, while benefiting from a strong Liberal showing, Koop said.
“He was a high quality candidate with high name recognition and a record in the area,” Koop said. “If the Tories had nominated a standard candidate, this likely would not have been close and the NDP would have won.”
Speaking to reporters, Klein said he felt great about the close result, despite a significant proportion of voters opting for a different candidate.
“In the next little while, I intend to prove myself as the right choice, so when the next election comes, they will have no problem seeing I am the right person for Kirkfield Park,” the MLA-elect said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
Updated on Wednesday, December 14, 2022 7:22 AM CST: Corrects spelling of byelection