Monday was certainly a wild night in Revelstoke, and the rest of the Kootenay-Columbia riding. On top of the Liberal’s surprise majority victory, we also got to watch as the local polls swung back and forth between Conservative incumbent David Wilks and NDP challenger Wayne Stetski all night.
Early on, it looked like Wilks would cruise back to Ottawa, especially with Liberal candidate Don Johnston posting a strong showing. Then Wilks’ lead started to narrow and eventually it flipped to Stetski.
He stayed ahead for a bit, but eventually Wilks jumped back in front and appeared poised for victory At one point he was up by close to 1,00 votes and I had a story written saying Wilks won. However, just before I posted it, the tally took a 1,300 vote swing in Stetski’s favour.
At that point, I stopped writing until every vote was counted and Stetski could safely be declared the winner.
Here are a few thoughts on the night and the election in general:
— I didn’t like the fact all the major Canadian media outlets were calling for a Liberal victory before the polls even closed in Revelstoke. It’s one thing to start reporting results as they come in across the country — it’s another to declare a winner while people are still standing in line to vote.
— How about that poll of the riding by Environics for LeadNow? The poll was conducted from Sept. 18–21 and put Wilks and Stetski in a dead heat, with 37 per cent support each amongst decided voters. That’s pretty much exactly the way things ended up, with Stetski finishing with 37.2 per cent of the vote and Wilks 36.8 per cent. The only change is that the Green Party bled support to the Liberals.
— Revelstoke is represented by the NDP for the first time since 1993, when Jim Gouk won the riding of Kootenay West-Revelstoke for the nascent Reform Party. Lyle Christiansen, who held the seat from 1988 to 1993, was the last member of the NDP to represent Revelstoke.
— For the first time since 2006, Revelstoke won’t be represented by a member of the governing party in Ottawa. In fact, we won’t even be represented by a member of the opposition. As a member of the third place party, Stetski will have a smaller budget and access to fewer resources, so it remains to be seen how well he will be able to do his job as MP when it comes to responding to constituents and advocating for the needs of the riding. On the plus side, he does have a personal connection with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, so hopefully he can parlay that into support for the riding. As well, Trudeau has promised a more inclusive government.
— It’s hard to judge David Wilks as an MP. He got more than 55 per cent of the vote in 2011 after running a campaign tied to Conservative priorities or law & order, support for the military and keeping taxes low, so you can’t fault him for supporting that agenda. He got funding for Trans-Canada Highway improvements, though they fall short of the dream of having the route twinned. He did bring in lots of funding to the riding, including $300 million for infrastructure in the national parks, and $1.8 million for the Big Eddy Water Works. He says his office responded to more than 7,000 calls from constituents, though I don’t know how that compares to other MPs, or how effective he was at responding.
He made the national media twice. First, in 2012, when he told a group of left-wing constituents in Revelstoke that he didn’t like the government’s omnibus budget bill, only to retract his remarks the next day and eventually vote for the bill. His other moment in the national spotlight was when he helped barricade the Conservative caucus room during last year’s terror attack.
— Don Johnston managed to revive the Liberal Party in Kootenay-Columbia, earning 19.5 per cent of the vote – their best showing ever. The last time they did this well was 2004, when Ross Priest got just under 18 per cent of the vote. In 2011, the Liberals got a mere 3.5 per cent of the vote.
— Poor Bill Green. He ran a spirited campaign, did great in the debates and had a lot of people talking about him. In the end, his share of the vote was pretty much the same as last time. As I wrote last week, he suffers from the problem that lots of people like him, but they’re afraid to vote Green because they don’t want to split the vote. While Johnston benefitted from the Red Wave that swept the Liberals to power, Green saw no such surge.
— Kudos to people showing up to vote. Turnout was up by more than 10 per cent across the riding. At 74 per cent, turnout was higher than the national average. That’s what happens when you have four strong candidates and a close race.
— When the ridings were redrawn and the old riding of BC Southern Interior was divvied up, some people accused the government of gerrymandering and said it was a ploy to give the Conservatives two easy seats, where before the NDP was a shoe-in in the West Kootenays. I don’t believe there was any government meddling, and if there was, it backfired as the NDP took both the expanded riding of Kootenay-Columbia and the new district of South Okanagan–West Kootenay.
— Prime Minister Trudeau has had a connection to the riding since he traveled here as a youth with his father Pierre. That connection grew deeper when his brother Michel died in an avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in 1998. Justin Trudeau worked with Stetski (who was then the manager for the region’s provincial parks) to build a backcountry cabin in the park. He was on the board of the Canadian Avalanche Foundation and last year he sent a message of congratulations to Avalanche Canada.