In the end, vote-splitting on the left was a moot point.
High drama kept voters in Kootenay-Columbia awake into the small hours, as Conservative David Wilks and New Democrat Wayne Stetski traded the lead down to the last handful of votes, in what was one of the tightest contests in the country.
On an historic election night, Monday, October 19, 2015, the riding saw massive voter turnout — more than 73 per cent.
With all polls reporting, according to Elections Canada online updates, Kootenay-Columbia could have a new Member of Parliament. According to preliminary results, Stetski finished on top by only 285 votes — 23,529 to Wilks’ 23,244.
Liberal candidate Don Johnston got 12,315, Green Party candidate Bill Green 4,115. 63,232 out of 85,653 eligible voters cast ballots.
In David Wilks’ campaign office in Cranbrook the mood was sombre after a remarkably tense evening.
“I was cautiously optimistic going into this and knew that it was probably going to come down to the last couple polls and it did,” Wilks said. “Congratulations to Mr. Stetski and I look forward to him working well with the constituency of the new riding of Kootenay Columbia.
“It’s been an honour for me to be in Ottawa for the last four and a half years.”
Wilks said he thought that the NDP ran a good campaign and that was what made it such a close race. He noted that Leadnow — an independent advocacy organization — targeted this riding very heavily.
“That probably played a significant role,” he noted.
Wilks said he had no regrets through the campaign.
“I worked a very hard campaign, I think all four of us worked a really hard campaign,” he said. “It is what it is, and you move on.”
Wilks said some of the comments Stetski during the campaign were incorrect, but didn’t have an impact.
“I needed to make sure the people knew what the proper story was and I did that, and I don’t think that that was something that hurt me at all,” he said.
Wilks added the voting turnout was pretty impressive.
Stetski apparently benefitted from the anti-Stephen Harper sentiment that led to a shocking Liberal majority government in Canada, a new Prime Minister (see related story, Page 5).
It was absolutely neck and neck as the polls reported and the vote counts came in, with both candidates trading the lead. High drama indeed, on an historic night that saw the advent of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister while Stephen Harper announced his resignation the same night.
It is apparent the anti-Harper sentiment was alive and well in Kootenay-Columbia, and for the first time in almost 20 years, a Conservative victory in this riding was not a foregone conclusion, where the Conservative vote totally more than all other candidates’ votes combined.
Down at the Manual Training Centre in Cranbrook, where the NDP were hosting a party, the winning candidate was relatively subdued.
“We are, I guess I’ll use the word successful by two handfuls of votes,” Stetski said. “It’s too close to call so nobody should be declaring victory at this point. There may well be a judicial recount.”
A judicial recount looks unlikely. A judicial recount is a new tabulation of the votes cast for an electoral district, presided over by a judge of a superior court of the province or territory.
A judicial recount must take place if the leading candidates in an electoral district receive the same number of votes after the validation of the results, or if they are separated by less than one one-thousandth of the total votes cast. In this case, the difference 63 votes.
“What an interesting evening it’s been,” Stetski said. “I brought two speeches tonight, and I’m not going to give either one of them.
“It really is too close to call and neither Mr. Wilks or I should be giving a victory speech at this point.”
Stetski thanked all the volunteers around Kootenay-Columbia. “For Audrey and I to drive into a community and have people waiting for us, has just been such a wonderful experience.
“For me, I was the regional manager of the Ministry of Environment for the Kootenays, with offices in Cranbrook, Nelson, Revelstoke and Invermere, and so for me, running in this election has been like going home. It’s been absolutely been a wonderful adventure.”
Stetski thanked the other candidates as well. “Mr. Johnston, ran for the Liberals, I think the figures were up to 19 or 20 per cent. He ran a very good campaign, a good candidate.
“Bill Green, excellent human being, great candidate and Mr. Wilks actually did very well as well. We had 12 debates in 12 communities. He didn’t come to all of them, but he came to most of them.
“Collectively, after many debates, I had people come up to me and say what a great group of candidates we had running in Kootenay-Columbia.
Stetski said politics is gone as of Monday night. “My job is to represent each constituent of Kootenay Columbia equally and that is what I will do, I will be your strong voice in Ottawa, I will provide you with excellent public service and I will work really hard with both the NDP caucus and Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to build a better Canada.”
“Thank you again, let’s hope the 20 vote lead holds, and I might have to give you a different speech in a little while.
“Assuming we are in Ottawa after this, we are all in Ottawa together.
“If everything holds, then I am looking forward to seeing Justin in Ottawa after Oct. 19 and absolutely congratulate him on a great campaign.”