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Upsets in northern Manitoba a sign of damaged NDP core, analyst says

Bruce Bumstead / Brandon Sun </p><p>Former minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Steve Ashton lost in Thompson.</p>

Bruce Bumstead / Brandon Sun

Former minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Steve Ashton lost in Thompson.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/4/2016 (1574 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A surprise shift in voting patterns in the north left two of the NDP's longest-serving MLAs out in the cold.

It's a sign the party's core is more damaged than previously thought, argues political analyst and author Chris Adams.

Veteran senior cabinet ministers Eric Robinson lost in Kewatinook and Steve Ashton lost in Thompson.

The losses were two of the biggest upsets in Tuesday's provincial election. Both races went down to the wire and were seats that have been in the NDP's hands for decades.

The Manitoba Liberals increased their vote in Kewatinook from a paltry one per cent in 2011 to almost half the votes cast for winning candidate Judy Klassen. Robinson, the province's aboriginal and northern affairs minister, inherited the seat from Elijah Harper in 1993 and it has long been considered a bedrock seat for the NDP.

Thompson has been held by Ashton since 1981 and the northern riding has only gone Progressive Conservative once — in 1977. On Tuesday night, the province's infrastructure and transportation minister saw his support shift from 68 per cent in 2011 to losing to PC candidate Kelly Bindle by about 200 votes.

Adams said he was surprised at Ashton's and Robinson’s ousting. Adams has written extensively on Manitobans' voting patterns and argues the NDP's core electorate is based in inner-city Winnipeg and the north.

"I think the PCs was such an overwhelming success in convincing voters it is time for a change that they actually damaged some of the core support areas of the province," Adams said.

Even in The Pas and Flin Flon, where the NDP held on, the Tories came within 60 votes and 150 votes, respectively, of ousting incumbent The Pas MLA Amanda Lathlin and putting the first Tory in Flin Flon since 1969. It didn't help that former Flin Flon NDP MLA Clarence Pettersen ran as an Independent, taking more than 300 votes that might have gone to the NDP's Tom Lindsey in Flin Flon.

"Perhaps to the voters, much like Winnipeggers, that the question at the ballot box was, 'Is it time for a change?'" Adams said. "Also as much as in south Winnipeg, if people think that there is a change of government, does that mean they will no longer have a minister representing their constituency?"

The Tiger Dam controversy that has dogged Ashton was also a likely factor in his loss, Adams said.

Ashton has faced months of allegations surrounding his attempt to secure a $5-million, sole-source contract for Tiger Dam flood-mitigation equipment. The company involved was represented in Manitoba by a businessman with whom Ashton had a strong personal and professional relationship.

Bindle, the MLA-elect for Thompson, said he built the constituency association from almost nothing and was able to mobilize members in the area to help build up the party's presence.

"People really wanted change, they weren't happy with the existing government and there were myriad issues up here in the north that they weren't happy with," Bindle said, citing the poverty rates in the north as an example.

Kewatinook Liberal MLA-elect Klassen was effusive Wednesday in her praise of Robinson. She chalked up her victory to a hard-fought campaign and runoff from the federal Liberals' victory in October.

People were aware of the NDP’s problems, she said. "Eric Robinson was still a big name, beloved by our constituents," said Klassen, a member of St. Theresa Point First Nation.

— with files from Nick Martin

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at 8:18 PM CDT: Adds Ross' riding.

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