While the election nobody seemed to want ended without much in the way of change, there are plenty of lessons for Canada’s major federalist parties.
Chief among them: Don’t try to foist political change on people while they’re struggling to adapt to personal challenges.
Don’t threaten to throw out gun legislation in Quebec. Don’t throw gravel at anyone. Don’t throw your own leaders under the bus.
Here in Manitoba, where change was even more miniscule than in some other regions, there are some micro-lessons parties can take away from 2021:
1. The Indigenous vote is not homogenous
There was a lot of speculation in Churchill-Keewatinook Aski that longtime NDP MP Niki Ashton would be defeated this year if Indigenous voters — the majority in the riding — chose to select one of their own.
Indigenous candidates did receive the most votes on Monday — yet Ashton remains the member of Parliament for a riding she first won in 2008, after the Indigenous vote didn’t coalesce around a single candidate.
Together, three Indigenous candidates — Conservative Charlotte Larocque, Liberal Shirley Robinson and Green Ralph McLean — amassed more support than Ashton.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the NDP and Conservatives are the most popular parties in this riding. For the second straight election, the Liberal candidate — who this year was endorsed by Indigenous leaders — finished third in the riding.
This should not come as a surprise, as Conservatives are more popular than Liberals in sparsely populated rural ridings from coast to coast.
When and if Ashton is ever defeated, it may very well be at the hands of a Conservative.
2. Never bet against Kevin Lamoureux
Liberal Kevin Lamoureux has now won seven straight elections at two levels of government, dating back to 2003.
He was elected to the Manitoba Legislature twice when his provincial Liberal party was so unpopular only leader Jon Gerrard joined him in caucus.
He was the only Liberal elected in Manitoba at all in the 2011 federal election, when the party only picked up four seats west of Ontario.
In other words, Lamoureux is a good election bet even when his party is doing poorly — and the federal Liberals did not see a collapse in their support on Monday night.
The good news for Melissa Chung-Mowat, the NDP challenger in the Winnipeg North riding who aggressively poked fun at Lamoureux’s penchant for meeting constituents at McDonald’s, is she has raised her profile at precisely the right time if she is interested in running for elected office again.
Winnipeg holds its next municipal election in October 2022, only 13 months away. Many of the neighbourhoods Chung-Mowat visited this fall are in the Point Douglas ward, where rookie Coun. Vivian Santos has made herself vulnerable, chiefly by declining to embrace vaccination during a pandemic.
3. The People’s Party only spoiled 1 party
Prior to the election, Conservative strategists scoffed at the notion the People’s Party of Canada would play spoiler in a number of Winnipeg ridings the Tories hoped to hold or steal.
By and large, that prediction was correct. The PPC failed to affect races in Winnipeg South, Saint Boniface-Saint Vital and Elmwood-Transcona, where Conservative candidates were trying to knock off Liberal and NDP incumbents.
In those three ridings, the PPC vote was smaller than the margin of the Conservative losses.
Where the PPC did have some effect is Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, where candidate Angela Van Hussen took enough Conservative support to give former Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson a chance of stealing back the seat from the Tories’ Marty Morantz.
But even this achievement comes with a caveat. As of Tuesday morning, Van Hussen had garnered 475 fewer votes than Steven Fletcher did for the PPC in this riding in 2019.
With the benefit of hindsight, the great tactical error of the 2021 Conservative campaign in Manitoba was diverting volunteers from the western Winnipeg riding into Winnipeg South and Elmwood-Transcona.
Outside Winnipeg, the PPC made its presence felt in Portage-Lisgar, albeit without influencing the result of the vote. PPC candidate Solomon Wiebe finished second by drawing away a sizable chunk of the vote from the Conservatives and their powerful incumbent, deputy leader Candice Bergen.
She nonetheless finished with 53 per cent of the vote and a massive plurality. It is easier for PPC supporters to vote with their conscience when they know there is no chance doing so will elect a Liberal.
4. Castle Blaikie remains impregnable in Elmwood-Transcona
In the two elections since 2015, when the NDP’s Daniel Blaikie stole Elmwood-Transcona away from the Conservatives, the Tories have tried to win the riding back.
The thinking is that demographic change in Winnipeg’s easternmost riding will eventually turn it blue, as more affluent new subdivisions dilute the old working-class NDP base.
That may very well happen some time in the coming decade. For now, the Blaikie dynasty continues.
A Blaikie — Daniel or his father, Bill — has represented this riding for 26 out of the past 33 years. The Conservatives threw resources at an effort to toss him out that fell shy more than 8,000 votes, suggesting it will be a while before the dynasty ends.
5. Advance polls are here to stay
Spurred on by COVID-19 concerns, 31,821 Manitobans voted in last night’s election using special ballots, either by mail or in advance at an Elections Canada office. Another 184,611 Manitobans voted at advance polls.
That means roughly a fifth of the electorate decided to vote before election day, either for convenience or to avoid the possibility of contracting COVID.
There is no reason to believe enthusiasm for voting or mailing ballots will wane after the pandemic finally recedes. Give Canadians the opportunity to avoid waiting in line and they will take it.