Manitoba’s ruling progressive conservatives have held on to a seat in a provincial election.
Voters in the Fort Whyte constituency in Winnipeg chose Obby Khan, a restaurant owner and former professional football player.
It was a nail-biting race in which Khan beat Liberal candidate Willard Reaves by 197 votes in unofficial results late Tuesday.
“Wow. I want everyone in Fort Whyte to know that your message was heard loud and clear tonight,” Khan told a room of supporters.
“We have some work to do, I have some work to do, and I will make it work for you.”
The seat has been a long-running Tory stronghold and was last held by former Prime Minister Brian Pallister, who retired last autumn.
It is the first by-election under Pallister’s successor, Prime Minister Heather Stefanson, and comes at a time when government support has fallen sharply in opinion polls.
Khan’s victory means the Tories retain a strong majority with 36 out of 57 seats.
Reaves, also a former footballer, was neck-and-neck with Khan at various points when the votes were reported.
On Twitter, Reaves congratulated Khan on a “hard-fought close choice.” He also thanked all the candidates for their time and efforts on the campaign.
Trudy Schroeder, a former executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, came in a distant third place for the opposition’s new Democrats.
In a statement, Schroeder congratulated Khan, saying the election results sent a message to Prime Minister Heather Stefanson and the progressive Conservatives.
“The Manitobans are tired of Brian Pallister and Heather Stefanson and the damage they have done to our province,” Schroeder said in a statement.
Royce Koop, who teaches political studies at the University of Manitoba, said opposition parties had a chance to take the seat from the Tories because government support fell during the pandemic.
Manitoba has the second-highest per-capita pandemic death rate after Quebec, according to data collected by the federal government. During an increase in cases last spring, dozens of intensive care patients were sent to other provinces to free up bed space.
Stefanson, who was health minister at the time, was elected Tory leader in late October. Opinion polls since then suggest the government’s popularity remains lagging behind the new Democrats, especially in Winnipeg.
Stefanson was criticized by some health professionals for easing public health orders, while intensive care units still ran well above normal capacity.
Last week, she was asked in the Legislative Assembly about the death of a COVID-19 patient, but began her response by congratulating her son’s hockey team on having won a provincial championship. She later apologized.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 22, 2022.
Unofficial results can be found here.
– With files from CTV’s Devon McKendrick.