Touchdown for Khan

Tories hold onto Fort Whyte

Progressive Conservative candidate Obby Khan, also a businessperson and a former Winnipeg Blue Bomber, won the hotly contested Fort Whyte byelection. (Supplied photo)

Fort Whyte voters took to the polls on March 22 to elect former premier Brian Pallister’s replacement.

Progressive Conservative candidate Obby Khan won with 3,050 votes (42.43 per cent). Liberal candidate Willard Reaves received 2,853 votes (39.69 per cent), NDP candidate Trudy Schoreder received 1,112 votes (15.47 per cent), independent candidate Patrick Allard received 101 votes (1.40 per cent), and Green candidate Nicolas Geddert received 55 votes (0.77 per cent). Turnout was 44.42 per cent.

Khan managed to retain the suburban Winnipeg seat for his increasingly unpopular party. The PCs have held this riding since its creation in 1999, previously always winning more than 50 per cent of the vote.

“The message, loud and clear ... is that we need to do better,” Khan says. “We haven’t really had an active MLA for a long time, and I want to be that.”

Sheri Oberman from Fair Vote Manitoba, an organization that advocates “for an inclusive, diverse and proportional representation” voting system, says this close race underscores the importance of electoral reform.

“Unfortunately, (our system) is a system that our political parties like,” Oberman says.

“What happens with a winner-take-all first-past-the-post system is it always becomes a duopoly, and we see that here in Manitoba,” she says, referring to the dominance of the PC Party and the NDP within provincial politics.

While byelections are generally uneventful affairs, this contest drew the attention of people across the province. The candidates from the three major parties are all fairly well-known Winnipeggers. Khan and Reaves are former Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Schroeder has been executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Khan is also a well-known businessperson.

The three candidates have been very active on social media, frequently clashing with one another. There were also allegations of favouritism against the PC Party when it was discovered that Good Local, co-founded by Khan, received a $500,000 grant from the provincial government. Furthermore, in the last few days of the campaign, Steven Fletcher – a former Conservative MP and People’s Party of Canada candidate – endorsed Reaves.

Khan made history by being the first Muslim elected to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. He is also an example of an athlete-turned-politician. While this seems like an unlikely career trajectory, Canadian political history is filled with examples. Dan Vandal, Thomas Steen, Carla Qualtrough and Ken Dryden all had professional sports careers before being elected to public office.

Among Manitoban politicians, curling is particularly prevalent. In fact, Khan’s predecessors in Fort Whyte, Brain Pallister and Hugh McFadyen, both curled competitively.

Running for office “isn’t something that came to mind until a few months ago,” Khan says.

“We’re in a tough time right now with the pandemic. People are really struggling, so I felt like we needed some positive leadership, someone with energy and charisma, someone who can bring people together, and one of my strongest points is that I can do those things,” he says.

The 43rd Manitoba general election will occur no later than Oct. 3, 2023. A recent poll shows the NDP in the lead (44 per cent), with the PCs trailing (34 per cent) and the Liberals in a distant third (15 per cent).

Published in Volume 76, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 31, 2022)

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