Former Shamattawa chief Eric Redhead wins Thompson, Man., byelection for NDP

NDP candidate Eric Redhead, who promised to reduce the inequities faced by people living in northern Manitoba, is projected to win the Thompson legislature seat, with just one poll left to report Wednesday morning. 

The former chief of Shamattawa First Nation surged ahead of PC candidate Charlotte Larocque, former president of the Thompson Chamber of Commerce, after polls closed at 8 p.m. 

He’s projected by the CBC decision desk to take the seat that has been vacant since the death of New Democrat MLA Danielle Adams, 38, who was killed in a highway crash in December.

With 52 of 53 polls reporting on Wednesday morning, Redhead had a 894-vote lead over Larocque, 1,469 votes to 575.

“I feel very relieved, and I feel grateful, to be honest with you, that the constituents in the riding have given me their support and they want me to be their voice in the [legislature], and I feel very honoured by that for sure,” he said to the CBC Tuesday night.

Redhead said growing up in Shamattawa, a remote fly-in community about 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, he was surrounded by social and family issues.

In November 2020, he was the first chief in Manitoba to call for and receive federal military aid to help with the COVID-19 crisis. 

Redhead served two terms as chief of Shamattawa before briefly taking a role as acting grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

He said he’s long worked to make life better for people, whether through jobs in health care or in crisis response, and credits his time as chief for giving him the skills to negotiate and pressure government officials to make sure people are taken care of.

“I feel as though we’re just going to continue to put pressure, we’re going to continue to fight for what Thompson needs,” he said. 

“A couple of days ago the emergency department was actually manned at Thompson General Hospital by Thompson fire and paramedics. Without them stepping in — thank goodness they did — the emergency room would’ve shut down.” 

When Redhead announced he would seek the NDP nomination in April, he said he had accomplished goals he set out for himself when he was elected as chief of Shamattawa, including building more housing and a new water treatment plant, which is expected to be finished in October.

As chief of Shamattawa, Eric Redhead the was the first chief in Manitoba to call for and receive federal military aid to help with the COVID-19 crisis. (Eric Redhead/Facebook)

While proud of his accomplishments as the chief of his community, Redhead said a lack of jobs, health-care support and economic opportunities can make it a challenging role for anyone who puts their name forward for First Nations politics.

Redhead, 36, was born and raised in Thompson, lives there, worked at Thompson General Hospital as a nursing aide, and his children attend school there.

After speaking with voters in every community during the campaign, Redhead said health care is top of mind, as well as highway safety and the cost of living.

“With Eric on our team, the NDP continues to represent every northern seat in Manitoba,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said. “Eric is a leader who cares about this community and its future.”

During his campaign, Redhead pledged that an NDP government would build a new community pool in Thompson, restore the foot care clinic cut by the PCs and create more economic opportunities for Indigenous families.

The NDP has won the seat in all but two elections since 1969.

Steve Ashton was the riding’s MLA for more than 30 years until he was defeated in 2016 by Kelly Bindle of the PCs, who lasted one term in the office. In 2019, Adams won the race with a margin of victory of 19 percentage points. 

Jordna Hill is the current chief of Shamattawa First Nation, after Redhead stepped down in April. 

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