Voters in the Thompson constituency, like those in the rest of Manitoba, opted for change in the 2016 provincial election, electing Progressive Conservative candidate Kelly Bindle by 210 votes over NDP incumbent Steve Ashton, who had held the seat since 1981, winning nine straight elections until this one.
Bindle received nearly 45 per cent of the vote compared to a little over 39 per cent for Steve Ashton and 16 per cent for Liberal candidate Inez Vystrcil-Spence. Ashton took 68 per cent of the votes in the 2011 election, more than double the total of the PC candidate Anita Campbell.
“It’s pretty clear that people voted for change and change they’re going to get,” Ashton said in his concession speech to supporters at the Royal Canadian Legion in Thompson, some of whom had applauded a few minutes earlier while watching Greg Selinger on TV announce that he was stepping down as NDP leader.
The longtime Thompson MLA remained defiant however, even after experiencing defeat for the first time in his 35-year political career.
“I’m making a bit of a prediction here,” he said. “I think last time we had a Conservative MLA it wasn’t long before we got out the bumper stickers. I’m suggesting here in 2016 it’s going to be memes saying ‘Don’t blame me. I voted NDP.’”
He also emphasized his record in office, a career that included over a decade in opposition and six terms in government.
“We took a community that was half boarded-up when we started, and we now have one of the best economic records in the country,” said Ashton, who paid tribute to longtime Thompson NDP supporter the late Bob Mayer with a toast at the outset of his speech. “We built Wuskwatim and I am so proud when we went out and visited Keeyask. The last number of years we worked with our MP to save 500 jobs at Vale and get the extension that we got in terms of the smelter and refinery. I’m proud of the work that our government did, that our party did, in terms of the highways. I want to send a message to the new premier: don’t mess with what we’re doing in terms of all-weather road access because that’s what we need in 2016. I don’t view this as an end, I just view this as another chapter because this is not just a political party. I was never just a political candidate. This is a movement. This is about changing society and so long as we have Third World conditions in our own backyard, we as New Democrats will be there for those communities. I am so proud to have been a part of a New Democratic Party that built a better Northern Manitoba.”
Ashton’s concession speech was introduced by his daughter and federal NDP MP Niki Ashton.
“Tonight it was a disappointing result,” she said, calling her father the hardest-working MLA in Manitoba. “He has been, number one, a voice for our community and our region. He has always been a strong progressive voice for what matters to us, not just on the outside but behind closed doors in his own caucus. He also has delivered for our community and our north like nobody else has. Everywhere you go in our community results have come to fruition because of the work of Steve Ashton. My dad has always been there for every single person in his constituency. The only candidate that went to every single one of the communities is Steve Ashton. Today as we were polling votes in the apartments in Eastwood and were in Ashberry and somebody said to my dad, ‘You’re the only one that comes here, the only one who comes to visit people who are poor,' and that to me is the spirit of who Steve Ashton is.”