News of a Conservative majority roused reaction extremes across Surrey and White Rock Monday, as supporters of the various parties gathered in campaign offices, private homes and banquet halls to see who would win control of Canada’s future.
As applause and cheers erupted from the campaign office of South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale incumbent Russ Hiebert, those hoping to celebrate a Liberal win stared in stunned silence as early polling results not only put the Conservatives in power, but gave the NDP Official Opposition status.
“This is not good news for us,” Liberal riding president Penny Essex said shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m., as she watched the screen set up in the campaign office of former White Rock mayor Hardy Staub. “Look at what’s happening with the NDP, at the expense of the Liberals and the Bloc.”
Further north, at the Grand Taj Banquet Hall in Newton-North Delta, the same news evoked not so much as a groan from the crowd of more than 400 Liberal supporters who watched the numbers roll in.
Broadcast networks announced a Conservative majority just before 8 p.m. They named the NDP the Official Opposition even earlier.
Celebrating the highest numbers her party has received since the South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale riding was created, New Democrat Susan Keeping – one of the riding’s nine candidates – was lauded by Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve, who said constituents have put Hiebert on notice – they want more representation at home.
“It’s a riding that’s been Conservative for a long period of time, but I think the Conservatives are being sent a strong message.”
Supporter Glen Pinch agreed.
“Even if Susan loses, she will have done so much better than ever before, and that will put the fear of the Lord in Russ Hiebert,” he said.
Hiebert, however, showed no fear when he arrived at his campaign office just before 8:30 p.m. Smiling ear-to-ear and with his pregnant wife, Andrea, and two young daughters in tow, Hiebert made his way through a jubilant crowd to hail the victory – his and the Conservatives’ as a whole – as a signal of citizens’ trust.
“Canadians have now given us their full trust and we will work hard to keep that trust,” he said, reading from a prepared speech.
“Ultimately, I believe this election came down to a referendum on the simple question of who Canadians trust to manage the economy. Clearly, it wasn’t a hard choice.”
Hiebert won 54 per cent of the vote. The NDP’s Keeping followed with 20 per cent; Liberal Staub earned 16 per cent.
The writing was clearly on the wall for the fortunes of the Liberals nationally and locally by 8:15 p.m., when party leader Michael Ignatieff’s concession speech, congratulating Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton, was broadcast. (Twelve hours later, Ignatieff announced his resignation.)
A muted Staub paced his campaign office as a television summarized polling results. The subdued atmosphere picked up after Ignatieff pointed to the necessity of reinventing and restoring the Liberals as a centrist party in the face of the “emergence of polarization in Canada.”
Describing the party as “humbled” by the results, campaign manager Gerry Lenoski roused applause when he paid tribute to Staub as “a great candidate – a really fun guy, who showed us how it’s done.”
“We ran a race and I did get a medal – it’s a bronze,” said Staub.
Before heading to offer Hiebert his congratulations, Staub told Peace Arch News things took a turn for the worse about two weeks ago, when a surge of support for the NDP was seen. He also acknowledged the existence of an “Ignatieff factor,” but attributed it to negative characterizations of Ignatieff by the Conservatives and NDP.
“The thing that happened is that when people tell a lie often enough, people begin to believe that lie.”
As Hiebert supporters toasted the Conservative win, Hiebert said he was most surprised nationally that the Bloc Quebecois was “literally replaced,” and locally by the rise in support for the NDP.
The results are “a complete seat change,” Hiebert told Peace Arch News.
“This is historic, in terms of the political shift that’s happening here.”
While many predicted having nine candidates for South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale voters to choose from would split the vote, Hiebert said having a variety of names and parties on the ballot is “always good for democracy.” Ultimately, voters went with what they knew, he said.
“They feel much more comfortable voting for a party – a candidate that’s represented by a party – with a track record,” he said.
Waiting for Hiebert to arrive, first-time voter Stanislava Ludmilin said she was expecting the victory, but “I wasn’t expecting it so early.”
A Conservative party member since she was 16, Ludmilin said it felt “amazing” to finally be able to have a say at the polls, she said.
“It’s actually good to finally go and be able to put in my vote,” she said. “I feel like I participated.”
Hiebert said the Conservative win is good for Canada, as it enables his party to start looking towards the future, as opposed to scenarios of three to five months at a time.
“Now we can proceed with some long-term planning,” he said. “Now, at least we can plan for four years.”
While Hiebert and Fleetwood-Port Kells Tory incumbent Nina Grewal quickly built formidable leads on their way to re-election, the races were much closer in Newton-North Delta and Surrey North, where see-saw battles saw the ridings’ Conservative and NDP candidates trading places throughout the night.
Newton-North Delta Liberal incumbent Sukh Dhaliwal, who fell to NDP Jinny Sims, was visibly shocked by his party’s dismal national support.
As the numbers rolled in, a sombre Dhaliwal, who has held the riding since 2006, walked between the tables at the Grand Taj Banquet Hall, shaking hands and offering hugs. He declined public comment until after he’d thanked his supporters.
In Surrey-North, there was another crowd-rousing moment as NDP candidate Jasbir Sandhu ousted Tory incumbent Dona Cadman, who was all-but-invisible throughout the 35-day campaign.
At the Bollywood Banquet Hall, a gathering of NDP loyalists stood as they watched the so-called “Orange Crush” of New Democrat support sweep the country, hoping it would sustain itself in Surrey and North Delta.
Local organizers said earlier in the evening they had never seen the level of volunteer support that manifested this year.
Green party candidate Larry Colero, who ran in South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, also found reason to celebrate Monday, with party leader Elizabeth May’s Saanich-Gulf Islands win. Her seat in the House of Commons is the party’s first ever by election.
Colero called the win the “saving grace” of an otherwise disappointing election.
“That’s huge for us – we won’t be ignored in the future,” he said.
Independent Aart Looye, who finished top amongst independents in South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, described the election experience as “an interesting way to get my feet wet.”
While disappointed with the end result, Looye said he was not surprised the Conservatives came out on top.
“The big, blue machine got out the vote. They’re big, well-funded and well run,” he said.
Of the three local ridings, voter turnout was strongest in South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, with 65 per cent of eligible voters casting their ballots. The number is about on par with the 65.6 per cent turnout seen in 2008, and higher than turnouts Monday in Fleetwood-Port Kells (53.4 per cent) and Newton-North Delta (62.2).
Nationwide, voter turnout was 61.4 per cent, an increase of nearly three per cent over the 2008 federal election.
The numbers do not include voters who registered on election day.
– with files from Alex Browne, Tracy Holmes, Kevin Diakiw, Hannah Sutherland, Jeff Nagel, Nick Greenizan & Melissa Smalley