Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont stepped down as leader of the party on Tuesday after losing his St. Boniface riding to the NDP challenger.
Robert Loiselle, a francophone Métis teacher who was born and raised in St. Boniface, won the riding for the NDP, which will form Manitoba’s next government.
“I know we changed hearts and minds in this election, but I also know that’s not always enough,” Lamont told his supporters in his concession speech, during which he also congratulated Loiselle and NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
“I’ve worked a lot of hard campaigns. This is one of the hardest, but I have to say it was also one of the very best,” said Lamont, whose party had 49 candidates running in this election — eight shy of the full slate the Liberals fielded in 2019.
The party held only three seats heading into Tuesday’s election, but finished the night with just one.
Jon Gerrard lost the Liberal stronghold of River Heights to the NDP’s Mike Moroz, a teacher and community activist. while Liberal Cindy Lamoureux held on to her Tyndall Park seat.
“Unfortunately, we are basically wiped out,” Lamont told CBC shortly after his concession on Tuesday. “I knew this was a possibility … It’s not pleasant, but we all have to move on.”
Lamont said with the party’s failure to make a breakthrough on Tuesday, he felt it necessary to step down as leader.
“I’ve just lost an election. I’ve just resigned as leader. It’s extremely difficult,” he told CBC.
“We made a very major, positive contribution to Manitoba in our time in office, and I’m very proud of that.”
Lamont is not sure what his future holds yet, but said he’d like to continue to make a “contribution in some way or another.”
“Manitoba is a fantastic province with fantastic people,” he said.
“It has a tremendous future and lots of possibilities. I wish everyone the best.”
‘A tough campaign’
The Manitoba Liberals were up against strategic voters this election, with the New Democrats making a strong push to capture their votes in St. Boniface.
The central Winnipeg constituency has swung between Manitoba’s NDP and Liberals for nearly 50 years.
From 1999 until 2018, the seat was held by the NDP’s Greg Selinger, who also served as Manitoba’s premier from 2009 to 2016.
Lamont, who became the Manitoba Liberal leader in 2017, won St. Boniface in a 2018 byelection, briefly giving the Liberals four seats that qualified them for official party status in the legislature.
While Lamont held on to St. Boniface in 2019, the Liberals dropped to three seats in that election, losing party status.
Official party status brings benefits such as more funding, more money to employ staff and more time to speak in question period.
The four seats in 2018 was the best showing for the Manitoba Liberals since 1990, when they won seven.
The party has deep roots in Manitoba, having once been a strong political force in the province, governing in coalition with the Progressive Party — a now-defunct party distinct from the modern PCs — for three decades beginning in the 1930s.
But the party’s seat count began to slip into single digits by the late 1960s, and it has struggled to maintain that official party status since it dropped to one seat in the 1977 election, before being wiped out completely from the legislature in 1981.
The one seat it held on to on Tuesday — Winnipeg’s Tyndall Park riding — has been held by Lamoureux since 2019.
Lamoureux first entered the legislature in 2016 as an MLA for the city’s Burrows riding after winning the seat in that year’s election. Her father, Kevin Lamoureux, is an MP and a former MLA.
Throughout the 2023 election campaign, Lamont attempted to sell the Liberals as an alternative to the province’s two main parties, urging voters not to cast ballots for the NDP as a strategic ploy against the PCs.
Christopher Adams, a political science professor at the University of Manitoba, says the NDP put in a lot of work to win St. Boniface, including a prominent campaign office on Marion Street, which is “one of the major arteries through St. Boniface.”
Tuesday’s election is a huge upset to the party, as Lamont worked hard to run “a tough campaign,” said Adams.
He says Gerrard’s loss is also particularly disappointing for the Liberals, since he is “kind of like the senior statesman” in the Manitoba Legislature and “well respected by people of all different stripes.”
Winnipeg’s River Heights riding has been a Liberal stronghold since 1999 under Gerrard.
‘Wave of anger’ at PCs: Gerrard
The riding has flip-flopped between the Liberals and the PCs since the late 1950s.
Gerrard said the loss was disappointing, adding he believes his party fell victim to a desire to push out the PC government.
“There was just a wave of anger at the Progressive Conservatives over health care and education,” he told CBC.
That anger was evident as he went door knocking, he said, and “sometimes when you get a wave in politics, it’s a wave that sweeps a lot of people away.”
He said his time in the legislature has been phenomenal, thanking the residents of River Heights.
Gerrard led the Manitoba Liberals from 1998 until 2013, and also served as a secretary of state for Jean Chrétien’s federal Liberal government from 1993 to 1997.
Gerrard, who was the lone Manitoba Liberal elected in the 1999 and 2011 elections, said he will be throwing his support behind Lamoureux, as he knows “what it’s like being alone.”