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 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 the eastern Canada.
The race for the South Okanagan – West Kootenay 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 gaining ground.
As of 10:20 p.m. and 239 out of 276 polls reporting Cannings was in the lead with 37.2 per cent of the vote, closely followed by Denesiuk at 29.1 per cent and Neufeld a not too distant third at 28.6 per cent. Official results will be confirmed on Oct. 21.
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 thanked outgoing MP Alex Atamanenko, saying that he was both a mentor and a role model. 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.”
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.”
And after such 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 the central Kootenays. Both the Liberal and Conservative candidates Denesiuk were gracious in defeat.
Denesiuk, who shifted from Conservative to the Liberal party after deciding that party no longer reflected her values said she is hopeful with the Liberals winning a majority government.
“We’re thrilled to see that Canada’s back on the right track,” said Denesiuk. “He’s the only leader that offered real change, now. The Conservatives said the status quo is good enough and the NDP said they’ll balance the books and then maybe fulfill their promises later. People want change and they want it now. And that’s what Justin Trudeau offered.”
Denesiuk added people in Canada wanted change.
“It’s a new hope for Canada. I mean, we’re not very happy with the way Canada’s handled many of the foreign affairs files.”
“Canada is going to see positive change, real soon,” she said.
For Neufeld, a local realtor, winning this election would have been fulfillment of a long-term goal. He volunteered for the Stockwell Day campaign in 2000 while he was still in high school, going on to work with Day in Ottawa as an aide.
“Tonight obviously didn’t turn as we all expected, hoped and worked towards but I thank you for all the work you did,” said Neufeld. “My family, my friends and everyone — you’ve all become my friends. It means so much to me all the support I’ve received across the riding and right here with all of you.”
Neufeld and his volunteers watched Trudeau’s victory speech on TV, shortly after news that Stephen Harper had been re-elected in his riding but was resigning as party leader. Neufeld had few words for the media but did say he called Cannings to congratulate him.
“It’s clear the people have made their choice in this riding and I look forward and fully expect he will be a good representative of this riding,” said Neufeld in a short speech to campaign supporters.
Neufeld said he is unsure if he would be running again.
“It’s disappointing on a national and local level.”
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.
-With files from Dale Boyd and Dan Walton/Penticton Western News