WINNIPEG - Manitoba Progressive Conservatives will be searching for a new leader after Hugh McFadyen announced his resignation following a disappointing election loss Tuesday to the governing NDP.
McFadyen said he felt he had little choice but to step down when his party failed to add significantly more seats to its standings from the last election. The Tories were elected or leading in 21 constituencies — only two more than in 2007.
"You have to deliver bottom-line results if you want to carry on as leader of the party. We didn't get the result we wanted so I am announcing tonight that I will be stepping down as our party leader," McFadyen said to gasps from a sombre crowd.
"I'll be inviting others to step up and take the opportunity to lead our party into the future."
McFadyen, 44, said he will stay on as leader until a successor is chosen but wouldn't commit to staying as a member of the legislature for the next four years.
He said he thought he would win at least 25 seats in the 57-seat legislature. The Conservatives did take 44 per cent of the popular vote, but it didn't translate into many more members of the legislature because of an urban-rural split.
They dominated the seats and vote percentage outside Winnipeg, but failed to capitalize in the seat-rich capital city, where the NDP cemented its fourth-straight majority.
"We didn't reach the level I thought we would reach. We didn't reach the level I wanted to reach," McFadyen told reporters later. "Based on that, I thought this is the right way to go."
McFadyen would have faced an automatic leadership review.
Party president Michael Richards said there is no hurry to hold a leadership convention.
"There is no rush or urgency," he said. "We want to respect our constitution. We want to consult with party members and the board of directors has a job to do. That will all unfold in the fullness of time."
There is no shortage of talented people within the party who may be interested in running, he added. The party is in good shape with a solid donor base and strong popular support.
The banquet room filled with Conservatives waiting to party became increasingly quiet as the results came in throughout the evening.
"We closed the margins down in a lot of the ridings that we didn't hold, but obviously we weren't able to get over the top," Richards said. "We'll have a fuller analysis in the days ahead."
The Tories ran on a centrist platform that promised better health care, a crackdown on crime and balanced budgets by 2018. But McFadyen faced attack ads on his plans long before the writ was dropped.
Some had suggested McFadyen deserved a third try at the premier's office.
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba's political science department, said McFadyen's first election didn't really count. He was a rookie member of the legislature, had only been leader for a year and the party was in disarray.
McFadyen grew as a leader, pulled the party together, raised money and improved party organization, Thomas said.
But he suggested McFadyen would have a tough time shaking the image the NDP tarred him with during the campaign.
Through constant attack ads that started running well before the election was officially called, the NDP noted that McFadyen was a central figure in the Conservative government of the 1990s — a government that privatized the province's telephone system and made health-care cuts in response to chopped transfer payments from Ottawa.
The ads suggested McFadyen had a secret agenda to privatize Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro and cut the health-care budget.
"It's hard to recover from that image," Thomas said.