An election campaign framed as a crucial choice for defining how Canada will emerge out of COVID-19 produced underwhelming results — with the Liberals returning with a minority government and little change to Manitoba's political map.
Only one riding remained in play early Tuesday, with a little more than 100 votes between the two leading candidates in Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley.
Conservative incumbent Marty Morantz was leading Liberal candidate Doug Eyolfson by 109 votes with 169 of 170 polls reporting.
The west Winnipeg riding could be decided Tuesday, with more than 3,400 special ballots (including mail-in) to be counted by Elections Canada.
As the results rolled in Monday night, Eyolfson dined with about 50 supporters at the Cork & Flame restaurant. In a thank-you speech to his campaign team, the ER doctor said he had no regrets.
"We could not have done anything different; we could not have done anything better," he said, adding Monday's preliminary national results reflect, "Tonight is a good night for Canadians."
Morantz didn't hold a public gathering and declined to be interviewed until the results are known.
"Everyone anticipated that this was going to be a close race," Morantz said in a written statement to the Free Press. "There are a lot more votes to be counted, after which I will be happy to comment further."
Otherwise, Manitoba's incumbent MPs were able to quickly claim victory Monday night.
Liberal incumbent Jim Carr (Winnipeg South Centre) said his party had made tough decisions that turned some supporters away, but he felt it still has the trust of most Canadians.
"There’s always a sense of satisfaction and relief after a campaign, and this was a tough campaign," he said in an interview.
"I’m grateful for the trust they put in me, and I’m ready to go."
Re-elected Conservative MP for Kildonan—St. Paul, Raquel Dancho, said it was an election nobody wanted.
"I am extremely concerned about the division in this country," she told reporters in a videoconference late Monday, saying the country is split along regional and urban-rural lines.
"That is critical, that we bring Canadians together, and bring down the temperature a little bit, and ensure that Canadians are seeing their parliamentarians lead with compassion and dignity and respect."
NDP incumbent MP Leah Gazan had an easy time holding her Winnipeg Centre seat, but still kept a close eye on the results.
"I probably won't sleep until all of the results are in," she said. "It was certainly an unnecessary election. I'm ready to get back to work."
Dan Vandal, returning Liberal MP for St. Boniface—Saint Vital, said the election showed Canadians want something "radically different" from what the Conservatives proposed.
He argued the 36-day campaign showed different visions on the role of government in providing health care, regulating guns and curtailing activities for those who won't get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"It was an opportunity to have Canadians weigh in on the important decisions that are going to be made," he said.
"The Conservatives have messed up dealing with COVID, in every province where there's been a Conservative premier."
This past weekend, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau blamed Alberta and Saskatchewan premiers for bringing about a deadly fourth wave of COVID-19. Despite that, Vandal said the Liberals will strike a new tone in working with Prairie provinces.
"Frankly, the province of Manitoba did a poor job in working with the federal government in combating COVID, in any measure that you want to take," Vandal told the Free Press.
"It's a new beginning; they're going to have a new premier soon, and we're willing to continue to work with whoever that premier is."
In Winnipeg South, Liberal MP Terry Duguid struck a similar tone, calling it "a resounding victory" in his speech to supporters.
"Canadians have faith in us to finish the fight against the pandemic," Duguid said in an interview, saying the vote gave the Liberals a mandate for "a fairer, more prosperous, greener Canada."
Little changed outside the Perimeter Highway, with all five rural Conservatives re-elected, and NDP incumbent MP Niki Ashton holding Churchill—Keewatinook Aski in the North.
Preliminary results showed gains in Manitoba for the right-wing People's Party of Canada, which ran on a platform with a strong stand against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
It garnered 20.5 per cent of votes in Portage—Lisgar, with only one poll remaining to be counted.
In 2019, the party had gained only 2.6 per cent of the vote share in the riding, which includes towns that have had large anti-vaccination rallies, such as Winkler. Conservative incumbent MP Candice Bergen had her 2021 vote share drop to 53.3 per cent from 70.8 per cent.
However, that was the only Manitoba riding where the People's Party finished second; the fringe party was relegated to fourth place in all others ridings except Provencher, where they are in third.
"Canadians want political parties to stop fighting and work together," said Liberal incumbent MP Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North).
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"