Wab Kinew, who is to become Canada's first First Nations provincial premier, spoke to young Indigenous people and those from all backgrounds in his victory speech Tuesday after the NDP won a majority in the Manitoba election.
"I was given a second chance in life," Kinew said to a cheering crowd. "And I would like to think that I have made good on that opportunity. And you can do the same."
Kinew's late father was not allowed to vote as a young man under Canadian law at the time. His mother's birthday was election night, and he brought her onstage to celebrate the historic win along with his wife and three sons.
The NDP's victory also brought the resignation of the other two main party leaders.
Heather Stefanson announced she would step down from the helm of the Progressive Conservatives after several of her cabinet members lost their seats in Winnipeg. The provincial capital holds 32 of the 57 legislature seats.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont resigned after he lost his own Winnipeg riding and his party was reduced to one seat from the previous three.
"This is a great victory for us," Kinew said. "This is a great victory for all of us in Manitoba.”
Kinew said any challenge can be overcome if people are united as "one Manitoba."
His win received praise from Indigenous leaders and politicians across the country. Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said it was a source of great pride to see a First Nations person leading government.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh posted on social media that Kinew “inspired generations of Indigenous youth to come.”
The New Democrats gained seats in urban ridings and held onto the north. The Progressive Conservatives held seats in rural areas but cabinet ministers Rochelle Squires, Kevin Klein and Audrey Gordon were defeated in Winnipeg.
Stefanson's constituency of Tuxedo, which she represented for 23 years, remained undecided early Wednesday.
Stefanson became Manitoba's first woman premier when she took over the top spot of the Progressive Conservatives midterm in a party leadership race after former premier Brian Pallister retired in 2021.
"Wab, I hope that your win tonight inspires a future generation of Indigenous youth to get involved in our democratic process, not just here in Manitoba, but right across the country," she said in a speech.
The Tories promised to hire more health-care workers and build hospital infrastructure, but focused much of their campaign on taxes and the economy.
In the middle of the campaign, the PCs decided to highlight their refusal to search the private Prairie Green Landfill north of Winnipeg for the remains of two slain Indigenous women. Police have charged a man with first-degree murder.
The Tories took out ads, including large billboards, promising they would "stand firm" in opposing a landfill search due to safety concerns over asbestos and other toxic material.
The ads were met with criticism from many quarters, but Stefanson defended the move, saying worker safety and avoiding the risk of cancer and other diseases was paramount.
Progressive Conservative campaign manager Marni Larkin said it was a long and controversial campaign.
“I’ve never experienced an election that’s been so aggressive at the door, on the ground … this is an all-out war."
The New Democrats had been leading in opinion polls for two years. Tory support dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, as hospitals struggled to deal with rising case numbers and dozens of intensive care patients were flown to other provinces.
The NDP, which won 18 seats in the last election, was on the offence throughout the campaign and made health care the central issue. Kinew promised to reopen three hospital emergency departments that were downgraded by the Tory government.
Former NDP cabinet minister Gord Mackintosh, who retired in 2016, said the New Democrats ran a disciplined campaign.
“The NDP campaign has been very sure-footed and really sympathetic to, I think, the key issues Manitobans are grappling with,” he said from NDP election headquarters.
Stefanson maintained a low profile at points during the campaign. She did not hold a news conference or media scrum in Winnipeg for more than 10 days, and she did not invite reporters to see her cast a ballot Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.