The New Democratic Party didn’t pull off an election win Tuesday night, but it pulled itself up from a crushing defeat three years ago to win back at least six seats in Winnipeg and the north, including taking down a cabinet minister — and to cement the leadership of Wab Kinew.
Kinew said he felt "proud" and "enthused" after his party formed the Official Opposition again after winning at least 17 seats by press time. An NDP source said the party had hoped to win 17.
New Democrat Jamie Moses defeated PC cabinet minister Colleen Mayer in St. Vital. Moses is one of the province's first black MLAs. Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP candidate in Union Station, is the first black and queer MLA elected in Manitoba's history.
Party headquarters, the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre, was packed as Kinew made his concession speech, which sounded more like a victory speech. Afterward, he strolled into the crowd of supporters, who wanted selfies taken with their leader, to the tune of Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up.
"Our new team is going to have twice as many new MLAs as there will be veterans on the team," Kinew pointed out, noting their energy would outshine that of the Tories.
"We are going to stand up for the environment, we are going to stand up for climate justice. We are going to stand up for a Manitoba that works for all, of, us," he said, emphasizing the last three words.
"We are going to stand up for the environment, we are going to stand up for climate justice. We are going to stand up for a Manitoba that works for all of us." -NDP leader Wab Kinew
Winning fewer than the 14 seats the party got in 2016 would have been seen as a failure for the NDP, never mind that it only had a dozen members when the legislature was dissolved to make way for the election.
Greg Selinger resigned from his St. Boniface seat last year, while Mohinder Saran, who represented The Maples, was removed from caucus in 2017 due to harassment allegations.
Four longtime New Democrats also chose not to run again — Rob Altemeyer (Wolseley), James Allum (Fort Garry), Flor Marcelino (Logan) and Andrew Swan (Minto) — meaning the party lost the incumbent advantage in those seats.
They regained strongholds that were lost in 2016, such as the northern constituencies of Thompson and Keewatinook and in Winnipeg, St. James. They kept Wolseley and Fort Garry.
The NDP's road to rebuilding hasn't been helped by party infighting and whispers of a divided caucus. And while the party will be thankful for some new MLAs, including Malaya Marcelino (Flor Marcelino's daughter) in Notre Dame, it has a long way to go to be united.
Nahanni Fontaine, who was re-elected in St. Johns, said she was proud of her party and of Kinew, who was the target of negative PC ads.
"Wab Kinew faced some pretty tough campaign(-ing) against him this election, which is unnecessary and uncalled for in Canadian politics," she said. "He held himself with absolute dignity and respect from the start of this campaign to the last day of this campaign, and we are all proud of that."
In keeping with party rules, Kinew will face a leadership review now that the election is over.
Having alienated many former NDP supporters due to his criminal past, (for which he was pardoned) and two allegations he assaulted a former partner more than a decade ago (which he denied), it's unclear whether the majority of party members would back Kinew again.
A Probe Research poll conducted in August found that Kinew had 41 per cent approval among Manitobans and 43 per cent disapproval, for a net score of -2 (which was higher than Brian Pallister's -14).
The Tories seized on the NDP leader's troubled past, targeting him in attack ads throughout the campaign that said Manitobans couldn't afford to take a risk on Kinew.
Kinew said the election outcome was evidence that Manitobans didn't fall for the PC ploy.
"The attacks that the Conservatives launched against me could only land if I gave them runway. We didn't do that in this campaign," he said.
"We talked about health care, we talked about the environment, we talked about jobs in Manitoba and Manitobans responded in a very positive way."
Tyndall Park MLA Ted Marcelino was the only NDP incumbent who lost Tuesday night, falling to Liberal incumbent Cindy Lamoureux, who moved from Burrows to run in his constituency.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.