POLITICS
10/05/2011 12:45 EDT | Updated 12/05/2011 05:12 EST

Changes looming for all parties following Manitoba election

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's political landscape was a study in contrasts Wednesday after an election that gave the NDP a fourth-straight majority but left the opposition in disarray.

Premier Greg Selinger found himself with one of the biggest caucuses in the province's history. It includes every cabinet minister that ran for re-election.

Selinger said voters sent a strong signal.

"Manitobans have told us directly that the priorities we have selected are the ones they want us to follow through on," he said.

"We're committed to making health care even better ... and continuing to have a stronger agenda for growing the economy."

Selinger emerged from the election with 37 of the legislature's 57 seats — one more than in the 2007 election and the biggest haul of any provincial party since 1932.

But he said he didn't "anticipate a major overhaul at this stage" and would only do some "tweaking" of his cabinet to replace two ministers who retired prior to Tuesday's election — Rosann Wowchuk in finance and Bill Blaikie in conservation.

On the other side of the legislature, however, the Opposition Progressive Conservatives were left to do some serious soul-searching. Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen stunned supporters Tuesday night by announcing he would resign after failing to add to the 19 seats the party took in 2007.

The party must now plan a leadership convention and consider candidates with an eye to who has a chance of defeating the New Democrats in 2015.

Party president Michael Richards, who ran unsuccessfully for the federal Conservatives in 2006 and has been mentioned as a possible leadership contender, said the executive is in no rush and isn't likely to set a convention date until near the end of the year.

"There will be a review of the policy positions that the party staked out and how we improve our appeal to the electorate, especially in Winnipeg," Richards said. "The leadership contest will spark an exchange of ideas and different views."

He wouldn't say if he's been approached to run.

"I'm not going to get drawn into that."

Other potential leadership contenders include popular former city councillor Gord Steeves, who ran unsuccessfully against NDP Health Minister Theresa Oswald, and high-profile education critic Heather Stefanson.

The Liberals may also be searching for a new leader soon and are facing a financial crunch as well.

Jon Gerrard hung on to his party's lone seat Tuesday. But the Liberal share of the popular vote dropped into single digits. He said he would consult party members and take some time to decide whether to resign as leader.

"There's no rush to a decision right now," Gerrard said Wednesday.

"In due course, I'll be talking about my future."

The Liberals have more immediate concerns. They failed, for the first time in decades, to get at least 10 per cent of the vote. Under Manitoba law, that makes them ineligible for a 50 per cent refund of campaign expenses. In 2007, they received more than $100,000. Now they are left with a sizable debt.

"We're looking very carefully at what the numbers are and developing a plan to deal with it," Gerrard said.

All three parties are to return to the legislature in late November. Selinger said there will be a throne speech and a brief sitting before the Christmas break.