After trading the lead for five hours after polls closed, New Democrat Wayne Stetski beat incumbent Conservative David Wilks to become the new member of Parliament for the Kootenay-Columbia riding.
With a voter turnout of over 73 per cent, Stetski finished with 23,529 votes, 285 over Wilks’s 23,244, in one of the country’s tightest contests. Liberal candidate Don Johnston got 12,315, Green Party candidate Bill Green 4,115, with 63,232 out of 85,653 eligible voters casting ballots in a riding where Conservative votes usually total more than the other parties combined.
The election also saw the federal Liberal Party surge back to power, with prime minister-elect Justin Trudeau’s party earning 184 seats, with the Conservatives toppled from power with 99 seats. The NDP trailed with 44, the Bloc Québécois with 10 and the Greens with one.
“What an interesting evening it’s been,” Stetski told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. “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. …
“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 takes place if the leading candidates in an electoral district receive the same number of votes after validation, or if they are separated by less than one 1,000th of the total votes cast, a difference of 63 votes in this case.
Stetski thanked all the volunteers around the riding.
“For Audrey and I to drive into a community and have people waiting for us, has just been such a wonderful experience,” he said. “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 had only positive remarks about his opponents.
“He ran a very good campaign, a good candidate,” he said of Johnston. “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 now that the campaign is over.
“My job is to represent each constituent of Kootenay-Columbia equally and that is what I will do.” he said. “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. …
“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.”
The mood in Wilks’s Cranbrook office was sombre.
“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 told the Townsman. “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, a factor in the close race, as was Leadnow — an independent advocacy organization — targeting this riding very heavily.
“That probably played a significant role,” he said.
Wilks said he had no regrets about his campaign.
“I worked a very hard campaign,” he said. “I think all four of us worked a really hard campaign. It is what it is, and you move on.”
Some of Stetski’s comments during the campaign were incorrect, Wilks said, but had no 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.
—with files by Barry Coulter, Cranbrook Daily Townsman