In a hotly contested byelection between two former members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Progressive Conservatives have narrowly retained the seat once held by former Manitoba premier Brian Pallister.
Obby Khan was in a back-and-forth battle with Liberal candidate Willard Reaves for most of the night before pulling ahead late to claim victory in Winnipeg’s Fort Whyte electoral district. Khan becomes the first Muslim MLA-elect in the province’s history.
“I have not only the honour of being your MLA for Fort Whyte, but this is a huge badge for me,” the 41-year-old told his supporters late Tuesday evening. “I have the honour of being the first Canadian Muslim elected in the history of Manitoba.”
Khan’s win means the PCs maintain a strong majority with 36 of 57 legislature seats — and it was the first byelection under the leadership of Premier Heather Stefanson, who was elected last fall.
With all 56 polls reporting, Khan garnered 3,050 votes compared to 2,853 for Reaves. NDP candidate Trudy Schroeder finished in a distant third with 1,112 votes.
Khan’s winning total represents just over 42 per cent of the vote — the first time a PC candidate has won less than 50 per cent of the ballots cast in the district and a far cry from the 57 per cent posted by Pallister in 2019.
“I want everyone to know in Fort Whyte that your message was heard loud and clear tonight,” Khan said. “We have some work to do. I have some work to do, and I’m going to do that work for you in Fort Whyte and in Manitoba.”
WATCH | Obby Khan’s victory speech:
Khan, who is also an owner and operator of Shawarma Khan, a Winnipeg-based halal shawarma restaurant, admitted it was a tough election, but vowed to work with his new constituents going forward.
A total of 7,189 votes were cast, for a final turnout of 45.2 per cent of the 15,907 registered voters in the district.
Independent candidate Patrick Allard finished with 101 votes, while Nicolas Geddert of the Green Party received 55 votes. Fifteen ballots were rejected and three were declined.
Before the final tally was announced, Elections Manitoba said 2,335 advance ballots were cast and 300 mail-in ballots were returned.
Under Elections Manitoba rules, if the winning margin had been less than 50, the returning officer would have immediately had to apply to the court for a recount.
A recount will not be needed after Reaves conceded the byelection, calling Khan to congratulate him.
Despite the loss, the former Bomber running back said he plans to run against the ex-Blue-and-Gold lineman again in the 2023 provincial election.
“This time the outcome will be different. I guarantee it because if Obby Khan doesn’t do the job that he has been elected to do, Fort Whyte will know about it,” Reaves said.
Schroeder released a statement via email after the final votes had been counted.
“Byelections are unique, but tonight’s result is clear: Manitobans are tired of Brian Pallister and Heather Stefanson and the damage they have done to our province. I’m proud of the positive campaign our team ran,” Schroeder said.
The suburban seat in southwest Winnipeg has normally been a safe one for the PCs, but support for the governing party has lagged during the pandemic, and Premier Heather Stefanson has not been able to turn that around.
A recent poll found that Stefanson is the least popular provincial leader in the country.
Despite the close vote, Stefanson said the byelection is all about growing the future of the PC party under a giant tent.
“This is about being inclusive and welcoming people from all different backgrounds to our party and just so excited to be here,” she said, while conceding people are angry right now about a number of things.
“I think that obviously we’re going to have to work with Manitobans, bring Manitobans back together again. And so today is is a new day. Tomorrow’s a new day,” she said.
“We’re going to work with Manitobans toward the next election and do everything we can to earn their trust.”
MAP | Fort Whyte: