Obby Khan unofficial winner in Fort Whyte by election for Tories

Manitoba’s governing Progressive Conservatives have held on to a seat in a provincial by election.

Voters in the Fort Whyte constituency in Winnipeg elected Obby Khan, a restaurant owner and former professional football player.

It was a nail-biter race, with Khan beating Liberal candidate Willard Reaves by 197 votes in unofficial results late Tuesday.

“Wow. I want everyone to know in Fort Whyte 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’m going to do that work for you.”

The seat has been a longtime Tory stronghold and was last held by former premier Brian Pallister, who retired last fall.

It’s the first by election under Pallister’s successor, Premier Heather Stefanson, and comes at a time when government support has dropped sharply in opinion polls.

Khan’s win means the Tories maintain a strong majority with 36 of 57 legislature seats.

Reaves, also a former football player, was neck-and-neck with Khan at various points as the votes were reported.

On Twitter, Reaves congratulated Khan on a “hard fought close election.” He also thanked all the candidates for their time and effort on the campaign.

Trudy Schroeder, a former executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, came in a distant third for the Opposition New Democrats.

In a statement, Schroeder congratulated Khan and said the byelection results sent a message to Premier Heather Stefanson and the Progressive Conservatives.

“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 the opposition parties had a chance to take the seat from the Tories because government support dropped during the pandemic.

Manitoba has the second-highest per-capita pandemic death rate behind Quebec, data compiled by the federal government indicates. During a spike in cases last spring, dozens of intensive care patients were sent to other provinces to free up bed space.

Stefanson, who was health minister during that time, was elected Tory leader at the end of October. Opinion polls since then suggest the government’s popularity continues to lag behind that of the New Democrats, especially in Winnipeg.

Stefanson was criticized by some health professionals for easing public health orders while intensive care units were still running well above normal capacity.

Last week, she was asked in the legislature about the death of a COVID-19 patient, but began her response by congratulating her son’s hockey team for winning a provincial championship. She later apologized.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2022.

Unofficial results can be found here.

– With files from CTV’s Devon McKendrick.

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