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North Winnipeg has been ignored long enough, newly elected Liberal candidate MaryAnn Mihychuk proclaimed as a standing-room-only crowd chanted her name.
The Tory stronghold riding of Kildonan-St. Paul turned red in a Liberal sweep Monday night, with Mihychuk overtaking Conservative challenger Jim Bell by 1,220 votes. She received 18,698 votes while Bell received 17,478.
NDP candidate Suzanne Hrynyk came third with 6,271 votes.
Mihychuk, 50, is a geoscientist and former NDP provincial cabinet minister. She spent nine years as an NDP MLA in Manitoba, serving as Minister of Industry, Trade, and Mines and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
As the first Liberal MP to represent the riding in more than a decade, she pledged to prioritize infrastructure in the riding, emphasizing improvements to Chief Peguis Trail.
"The north half of this city has been expanding rapidly. It deserves respect. It’s going to have strong voices that are going to work together, no matter what political affiliation, and we’re going to be speaking out for the north half of this city," she said as she thanked jubilant supporters imbibing on red wine, beer and vanilla sheet cake at her campaign headquarters Monday night. The crowd cheered and periodically broke out into song (We Are the Champions) as they celebrated Mihychuk’s win.
Asked what she believed put her ahead of her Conservative opponent in the traditionally Tory riding, Mihychuk said, "I think it really was the ground game."
Mihychuk has been door-knocking and meeting voters for more than a year leading up to this federal election, and the biggest issue her campaign volunteers have heard from voters is the economy, said communications manager Richard Davies.
"We need greater infrastructure; that is what we hear a lot of at the doors. The extension of Chief Peguis (Trail) is one, absolutely," he said.
"MaryAnn has a strong political record through her time as a school trustee, a member of the legislative assembly as well as a cabinet minister. She has the experience needed to get the job done in Kildonan-St. Paul," Davies added.
Many supporters cited Mihychuk’s previous political service and professional qualifications as reasons why she’s up to the task of turning a Tory stronghold riding red.
"Her energy, her effort, her heart is genuine. And when I met Justin (Trudeau), I got the same vibe," said supporter Gary Enns, who voted for the Liberals for the first time in the past 30 years. "This is the real deal."
Davies, 22, said young people have been a big part of Mihychuk’s campaign, and focusing on youth is important to her.
Prior to her retirement this year, Conservative MP Joy Smith represented the Tory stronghold riding since 2004.
"Joy Smith has done some good stuff, but the problem is she was running for the wrong party," said one Mihychuk supporter.
Mihychuk said she also plans to focus on seniors’ needs, and supporter Shirley Godfrey said she believes the newly elected MP is sincere.
"The biggest issue for me is affordable housing for the old and the young," Godfrey said.
As for what she’ll do immediately following her victory party, housework is at the top of Mihychuk’s to-do list.
"I think I’m going to vacuum my apartment and pay my bills," she said, laughing. "And maybe do my dishes – that’s number three."
Bell was president of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for 12 years, touting himself in his campaign biography for having overseen the team’s most financially-profitable year ever.
He and his family have lived in the riding for 33 years.
Bell is a certified general accountant, but his campaign biography makes no reference to any specific work experience or job other than with the football team. Nor is there any indication in his biographical campaign information or in news coverage that Bell has disclosed his age.
The Campaign Life Coalition lists Bell as a strong advocate of right-to-life positions.
The affluent riding of 61,252 voters in northeast Winnipeg and its exurbs had elected now-retired Conservative Joy Smith all four times since the riding was created in 2004, most recently with 58 per cent of the vote.
Amazingly, the Liberal candidate ran third in 2011 with less than eight per cent of the vote.
Liberal candidate MaryAnn Mihychuk had been a lifelong New Democrat, at one time a provincial cabinet minister and before that a school trustee in Winnipeg School Division, who also had an unsuccessful mayoral run. She’s been working in the mining industry since leaving politics.
NDP candidate Suzanne Hrynyk is a nurse who served on the WSD board as a two-term trustee before running sunsuccessfully but strongly for city council a year ago.
Also on the ballot were Steven Stairs of the Greens, Christian Heritage Party candidate David Reimer, and independent Eduard Walter Hiebert.
Bell waiting until "final whistle"
Bell finally spoke to his supporters at 12:11 a.m., but refused to concede despite being behind 1,037 votes with only nine polls to report.
"We’ll wait until the final whistle goes," Bell said. "I had an all-star lineup, and I thank each and every one of you."
Bell singled out Joy Smith for praise: "I will never ever forget my first meeting with you," he said.
Bell did finally tell his supporters: "If the numbers stay the way they are, I congratulate MaryAnn Mihychuk. I do not consider this experience and journey a loss."
Good sign for provincial Tories?
Veteran Tory MLA Bonnie Mitchelson is taking tonight’s walloping of her federal party as a good sign for provincial Conservatives in April.
"Obviously, people are indicating it’s time for a change. We’re expecting and anticipating Manitobans want change," Mitchelson, MLA for River East for 30 years, said at Jim Bell’s headquarters in Kildonan-St. Paul.
"The biggest surprise for me is the collapse of the NDP," Mitchelson said. "This is an election I couldn’t read."
She said it’s up to Stephen Harper to decide if he should quit — she wouldn’t give him any advice on his future tonight.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.