You could hear the emotion in NDP candidate Richard Cannings voice as he gracefully thanked supporters in his winning bid to become South Okanagan-West Kootenay’s first Member of Parliament.
“I pledge to not only take your concerns to Ottawa, but also to seek out your ideas on how we can make this a better place to live,” said Cannings. “Together we can build a better country and a Canada we can be proud of once again.”
He will represent the riding in a Liberal party majority government led by Justin Trudeau after a red wave swept eastern Canada. He was disappointed the NDP won’t be forming the next government of Canada, but said the NDP would still be effective in Parliament.
“We’ve always said we will work with the Liberals on issues of importance to Canadians,” said Cannings. “And we will hold their toes to the fire if they are not doing what they should.”
The race for the new riding’s seat in parliament became increasingly tight as the long campaign drew on, with polls showing support for the NDP softening as Conservative Marshall Neufeld, Liberal Connie Denesiuk and the Green Party’s Samantha Troy all gained ground.
Cannings was elected with 24,823 votes, followed by Neufeld at 19,894 and Denesiuk a not too distant third at 18,727 votes.
For Cannings, a biologist and ecologist, this was a first attempt at federal politics, though he had tried for a provincial seat in 2012. He admits it has been a long journey, which started in January 2014, when he decided to put himself forward for the NDP nomination in the new riding.
The morning after his win, Cannings said it’s not much different from the election campaign, he is still listening to voter concerns as he did while door-knocking throughout the riding during the election campaign. He plans to maintain an open door policy at his office, and to take those concerns to Ottawa.
Much of the new SOWK riding was part of NDP MP Alex Atamanenko’s riding, and Cannings said though Atamanenko is now retired, his support helped bring Cannings to power.
“It’s an advantage to have that kind of reputation to precede me,” said Cannings, adding that Atamanenko has been a personal mentor, not only helping him in his campaign, but letting him know what to expect when he gets to Ottawa.
While campaigning, Cannings said he often heard from Atamanenko’s supporters.
“If you are going to be as good as Alex, then I will vote for you. Those are big shoes to fill,” said Cannings. “Like Alex, I will work hard for you and all the people of SOWK.”
After a long race, tension was high as supporters gathered to watch results trickle in Monday evening from polling stations across the large new riding, which stretches from Penticton south to Osoyoos and west to Castlegar and to the central Kootenays.
Former Penticton city councillor and mayor Garry Litke, who ran for the provincial NDP in 2005, said the last time he had been at a victory party like this was in 1986, when Jack Whittaker was elected. He said the campaign workers had been dedicated supporters throughout the long campaign.
“There are a lot of tired people in this room, but a lot of very happy people, because we did our job,” said Litke. “Disappointed in the national results, but we will celebrate Dick’s victory.”
After a hard fought race — 78 days, the longest federal election campaign since 1872, Denesiuk and Neufeld were gracious in defeat. Denesiuk arrived at the NDP celebration event just in time to congratulate Cannings on his victory, and spoke of the friendship they had developed while electioneering.
Denesiuk said the Liberals will fulfill their promises.
“People in Canada wanted change and that is what they are going to get,” said Denesiuk. “Canada is going to see positive change, real soon.”
The riding, which was created in 2012 during the federal electoral boundaries redistribution, includes parts of three former ridings: largely B.C.
Southern Interior and Okanagan-Coquihalla and a small portion of Kootenay-Columbia. This year’s count of 66,727 voters represents a 73.57 per cent turnout, bettering the national average of 68.49 per cent.