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Lindsey wins reelection, Manitoba NDP to form majority government

It was an orange crush for the Manitoba NDP. Flin Flon MLA Tom Lindsey won his seat for the third time and the party won their first majority government since 2011.
Tom Lindsey and his wife Sharon celebrate his victory in the Oct. 3 provincial election. Lindsey won his third term as the MLA for Flin Flon and his party, the Manitoba NDP, won a majority government.

It was an orange crush for the Manitoba NDP. Flin Flon MLA Tom Lindsey won his seat for the third time and the party won their first majority government since 2011.

With 23 of 37 polls within the riding reporting results as of midnight Wednesday, Lindsey currently has 2,593 votes, compared to 808 votes for Progressive Conservative (PC) candidate Charlotte Larocque. Lindsey currently has more than 76 per cent of the vote.

Lindsey had an early lead that did not waver - in the first of 37 polls set to report in the riding, out of 22 votes counted, Lindsey received all 22 of them. While Larocque's name appeared on more ballots later in the night, Lindsey stayed ahead.

While the numbers were almost certainly on Lindsey's side late Tuesday night, at his campaign base at the United Steelworkers (USW) hall on Main Street, with campaign staff and his wife Sharon at his side, Lindsey wasn't willing to jump the gun. A retired miner, safety officer and long-time member of the USW Local 7106, Lindsey served as the NDP's critic for natural resources and northern affairs before the election.

On election night, Lindsey is a ball of nerves until the last count comes in. Long after media outlets have projected he would win, Lindsey doesn't tempt fate, only talking about being ahead, not winning yet.

"I never like to sit down and call it done until all the polls close. Certainly it looks like we've won, but I'm always nervous going into these things," he said.

The MLA-elect received texts from family members in Saskatchewan, his original home province, while waiting for final results.

"I got a message from my older sister - her and my brother are not NDP. She said, 'Looks like you won't be unemployed - congratulations,'" he said.

"She said, 'we were both upset with our provincial government's recent direction.' I told her, 'Listen to your little brother.'" 

Finally, with the hall's TV tuned to CBC Manitoba's coverage, Lindsey and company watched as PC party leader and outgoing premier Heather Stefanson both conceded the election and announced she would step down as party leader. There weren't cheers, nor were there tears - just surprise and quiet recognition that years of work had finally paid off.

"I've never actually been a member of the government - I've always been in opposition. It's exciting and scary because in opposition, it's easy to stand up and scream and holler and say, 'You should do this, you should do that,'" he said.

"If you're part of the government, will you still get everything you want? No, but I have to be that effective voice for this constituency to make sure they hear what we need - and there's so many needs throughout the constituency that we need to get some recognition for that. I'll be that voice."

Provincial picture

Former Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister once famously said during debate on the floor of the legislature that Lindsey "has no friends". After all the votes are tallied, he'll soon have a few heading to Winnipeg with him.

While exact numbers are still not known as of midnight Wednesday, Lindsey will be one of at least 30 NDP MLAs elected to serve their regions in the provincial legislature. As of midnight Wednesday, forecasts predicted that 33 or 34 NDP candidates were ahead in the polls, joined by 22 or 23 PC candidates and one Manitoba Liberal.

One of those MLAs will be premier-elect Wab Kinew, who when sworn in will become Canada's first-ever First Nations premier. Kinew, who took over as party leader in 2017 and stayed on as leader despite losing in 2019, will also be the province's youngest premier in more than half a century - Kinew is 41 and will be the youngest person to assume the office since Edward Schreyer, aged just 33, became the province's first NDP premier in 1969.

On the other side, both leaders of Manitoba's other two largest parties stepped down from their positions. Stefanson's concession and resignation was one of the biggest stories on a night where her party took blow after blow. At least six PC cabinet ministers - potentially as many as eight - lost their seats to NDP candidates, including long-time health minister Audrey Gordon, who lost to Renee Cable by more than 1,500 votes.

Mental health and community wellness minister Janice Morley-Lecomte lost to Billie Cross by over 1,250 votes in Seine River, while families minister Rochelle Squires lost by 16 points - about 1,700 votes - to Mike Moyes. Climate minister Kevin Klein lost to Logan Oxenham, who will be Manitoba's first transgender MLA - Lindsey went doorknocking for Oxenham during his first try at being elected in a byelection last year. Long-term care and seniors minister Scott Johnston was projected to lose a close race to Nellie Kennedy.

Stefanson almost lost her own seat in Tuxedo to NDP candidate Larissa Ashdown - as of midnight Wednesday, Stefanson was leading by just under 300 votes with one poll left to report.

Manitoba Liberal Party leader Dougald Lamont, who lost his seat in St. Boniface to NDP rival Robert Loiselle, also resigned his seat. The Liberals only took home one seat on the night and stand to lose their official party status in legislature - Manitoba rules only give that status to parties with three or more MLAs.

Along with Lindsey, the other three northern seats each went to NDP incumbents. The Pas-Kameesak candidate Amanda Lathlin won her third term as MLA, fighting off a tough challenge from PC candidate and former mayor of The Pas Alan McLauchlan. In Thompson, former Shamattawa First Nation chief Eric Redhead won reelection over PC rival Linda Markus, while Ian Bushie took down PC candidate Michael Birch in Keewatinook.

Lindsey felt the two main parties' campaigns were in opposition to each other - he said the NDP push for inclusion ended up making a big difference province-wide.

"When everybody had a whole look at health care, it was hard for them to say they could keep supporting the PCs," Lindsey said. 

"Wab's message was more about bringing us all together and representing everybody, where the other's message was about representing a certain faction. I think, based on that, I felt pretty good about going into the election. It was like the PCs were really trying to reach out to the far right of the party and they forgot about the moderates. The Progressive Conservatives? There weren't any progressives left in Stefanson's party."

Local impact

In his pre-election questionnaire with The Reminder, Lindsey listed health care as his main concern on the campaign trail, as well as reversing cuts to funding and services. Lindsey also listed highways and infrastructure, cell and internet service and recent changes to regional policing coverage as top concerns.

Moving from opposition to government means a prime chance to get concerns heard. Lindsey did caution against wanting too much too fast, but said he'll take every opportunity to boost projects for northern communities.

"They're going to hear the things that are important - health care, education, infrastructure, roads. We're going to get some of that stuff addressed and we're going to get some of it addressed sooner rather than later," he said.

The list of needs and requests from the province for Flin Flon alone is a long one - increased health care funding, including a potential restoration of obstetric care at Flin Flon General Hospital and looking into installing an MRI machine at the facility, is a top priority. New paving work on several northern highways is being discussed, as is the ongoing effort in Flin Flon to build a replacement for the Aqua Centre.

"On the doorsteps, 99 per cent of the people that I talked to were supportive of the fact that I've been there for them, speaking up for them. There's always suggestions that you hear out and about. The whole idea that I'd like to see an MRI here wasn't my idea - the first time around, it was an old gentleman I talked to in his living room, and he thought it was a good idea. He's right. It is a good idea," Lindsey said. 

"You always learn. The more you talk to people, the more you learn, the more you understand what the issues are, the more you understand what the issues are to them personally."

Lindsey's spot as a prominent critic for the NDP may put him in position for a provincial cabinet seat.

"You need to make sure people know that you're still in there fighting for what's important for people in the Flin Flon constituency. If you become a cabinet minister, then it becomes easier to get certain things done, but you need to make sure you don't lose focus on your constituency issues while you're the minister dealing with whatever issues that ministry has. It's always going to be a balancing act," Lindsey said.

"I'm going to keep pushing that the north is heard, that this constituency is heard, that things that are important for Flin Flon are heard, but it's going to be about things that are important for the whole constituency. Some of those can be things in Flin Flon that then help the rest of the constituency."

Lindsey said he thanked the people of the riding, from Flin Flon as far north to Brochet and as far east to Norway House and Cross Lake, for their confidence in him.

"Thank you for putting your faith in me. Thank you for sharing your stories and your concerns with me on the doorsteps," he said.

"Flin Flon is going to have some things happen to it. It's not dead in the water. That's true for communities outside of Flin Flon as well. There are things going to happen in a lot of those communities that I hope to be a part of making sure happen."

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