As election results poured in Monday night, there was disappointment and some tears in Elizabeth May’s campaign headquarters, cheers as Jody Wilson-Raybould held onto her riding as an Independent, and an upbeat mood at Jagmeet Singh’s gathering — despite big seat losses — as the NDP looks forward to holding the balance of power in a minority government.
Wilson-Raybould: ‘Strong, independent voices matter’
Wilson-Raybould ended a nine-month saga on a high note Monday night, holding on to her Vancouver Granville riding as the first Independent Indigenous woman MP.
Wilson-Raybould had already made history as the country’s first Indigenous attorney general and justice minister before being fired by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“This is an incredibly humbling moment and experience,” she said to a small but loud crowd, almost equally composed of campaign volunteers and media at the Hellenic Community of Vancouver.
“Tonight, we accomplished together something extraordinary. We accomplished showing Ottawa, showing our political process, that independent, strong voices matter.”
The race was close. Wilson-Raybould captured 32.6 per cent of the vote, with Liberal Taleeb Noormohamed in second place with 26.6 per cent, followed by Conservative Zach Segal at 22.1 per cent, the NDP’s Yvonne Hanson at 13.1 per cent and Green Louise Boutin at 5.1 per cent. In 2015, she won with 44 per cent of the vote as a Liberal.
“Four more years! Or however long a minority government lasts,” Wilson-Raybould joked during her victory speech.
“I congratulate the Liberal party for their minority government,” she said. “I do think the best laws and the best policies come from a minority government situation.”
She said her priorities would be working with other parties on electoral reform, climate change response and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
In January, Wilson-Raybould was demoted in a cabinet shuffle. News broke that Trudeau, cabinet ministers and senior staff had spent months pressuring her to intervene to let Quebec’s SNC-Lavalin avoid corruption and bribery criminal charges.
A former Crown prosecutor and regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations, Wilson-Raybould refused to cave. She resigned from cabinet, followed by fellow Liberal MP Jane Philpott. Trudeau kicked them both out of the Liberal caucus.
Both women ran as Independents, but only Wilson-Raybould managed to hold onto her seat.
During her victory speech, Wilson-Raybould described Philpott — who served as health minister, Indigenous services minister, and Treasury Board president — as “literally the best minister of the Crown that this country has ever seen.” Wilson-Raybould told The Tyee her victory sends a message.
“This win means that it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in, to speak your truth, to act with integrity, even with implications that might descend on you,” she said.
“For me, it’s what I was always taught — to do the right thing. And if you work hard, then the universe unfolds as it should, and I’m really glad that it unfolded this way.”
Tim Hawkings, a campaign volunteer, said the win was important for politics in Canada.
“I’ve talked with so many people at doors that are like, ‘We just think on principle that we need to have somebody who is honest in government,’” he said. “There’s a lot of people that feel re-energized about politics, who have felt disenfranchised from the system and felt that the system wasn’t working for her.”
Roxanne Duncan was one of those people.
“I’ve been following the campaign since the scandal went down, and when she was ejected from the party, and I was curious whether or not she would run as an Independent or not, and I was really excited to see that she did,” Duncan said.
“It’s nice to feel like you sort of have an alternative in somebody you can vote for.”
Disappointment, tears as Greens gain little ground
As a long-awaited Green wave turned into a ripple Monday, leader Elizabeth May vowed to continue to fight on — though perhaps not as party leader.
The Greens almost doubled their share of the popular vote and captured three seats — the best performance for a Green party anywhere under a first-past-the-post electoral system, May told about 100 supporters. Two of the three MPs are women, she added.
Flanked on the stage by young people, several of whom were in tears, May vowed “We will not allow the Parliament of Canada in its 43rd session to let down our children.”
The Greens would hold the government’s feet to the fire, she said. “There will be crispy toes.”
Speaking later with reporters, May said the campaign had been light on discussion of issues and all the other parties had tried to paint themselves as more committed to climate action than they really are.
“There was a definite attempt to persuade voters other parties represented choices on climate, when they didn’t,” she said.
May said she was pleased that Wilson-Raybould won re-election as an Independent and that it’s difficult to say how long the minority Parliament will last.
She said she plans to run in the next election but acknowledged she’s ready to pass on the leadership.
“I’m not making any decisions right away,” she said. “I’m not in any hurry to leave, that’s for sure.”
The Greens held onto May’s Saanich-Gulf Islands seat and the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding held by Paul Manly. Their only gain was in Fredericton, with candidate Jenica Atwin.
May said the unexpected win in New Brunswick was “heartening.”
“We’ve always been underestimated,” she said, noting that few pundits had believed she could win before her 2011 victory.
Headed into election day the Greens were polling at seven per cent across Canada and had their strongest support in B.C. at 13 per cent. Both numbers had declined in the final weeks of the campaign.
As the finish line neared, May had told The Tyee she worried about attacks by the other parties.
“My biggest fear is people are going to do their usual fear-based panicked stampede to vote Liberal to stop Andrew Scheer, which would be right now a dreadful error, because Scheer is not going to become prime minister in this election,” she said.
Monday night, May said some of the fears were justified.
“The NDP spent hundreds of thousands on misinformation aimed at Vancouver Island seats,” she said. “We faced obstacles we never thought we’d face. A nasty smear campaign does take its toll.”
May spent much of the campaign on the defensive, trying to explain how to reconcile letting Green MPs vote their conscience while still protecting a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
Green party national campaign manager Jonathan Dickie said “we’re happy with three seats. We would have liked to have four or more.”
The party had hoped to win more seats on Vancouver Island, he said, but in the end failed to overcome an NDP surge. “Late in the campaign they started to rebound, and they were able to challenge us in a few of the ridings we hoped to win.”
Alan Dolan, a long-time supporter, said the lack of progress hurts the party and the country.
“As a Green since the party’s beginnings in 1983, it seems to be a very slow and steady race, hindered by a lack of political will to bring in proportional representation and excessive corporate greed,” he said. “Unfortunately, the race has to speed up if we want to survive this climate emergency.”
Buoyant at Singh headquarters, despite drop in seats
“I’ve said it from day one,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said to a packed ballroom of supporters on Monday night. “I work for all of you!”
The New Democrats fell from 39 seats to 25 in Monday’s vote, and its share of the popular vote fell from 19.7 per cent to 15.9 per cent. But while voters delivered fewer seats, the NDP gained a boost in status as it holds the balance of power in a Liberal minority government.
Party supporters celebrated at a Hilton in Burnaby South, where Singh defended the seat he first won in last year’s byelection.
There was thunderous applause as Singh went through his campaign’s ambitious promises: national pharmacare, taxing the rich, climate action.
“Canadians sent a clear message tonight that they want a government that works for them, not for the rich and the powerful,” he said.
“I spoke with Mr. Trudeau earlier tonight and let him know we’ll be working hard to deliver on the priorities all Canadians have,” Singh said.
Despite the drop, the charismatic Singh — 40, a former criminal defense lawyer and Ontario MPP — made a strong impression with Canadians.
He pledged to fight inequality and climate change, setting the NDP apart from the Liberal and Conservatives focus on middle class prosperity — and from the moderate Tom Mulcair-led NDP of the last election.
Singh’s personality and background also attracted the attention of both allies and adversaries.
A Scarborough-born child of Punjabi immigrants and a turban-wearing Sikh, Singh is the first person of colour to lead a major political party in Canada. That was a point of pride for many Canadians of colour, but also something that triggered racist attacks, from a People’s Party candidate tweeting a cartoon of Singh with a bomb in his turban to a Montreal man advising Singh to “cut” his turban off so that he would “look like a Canadian.”
But Singh handled hate and heckling with grace and cool. He told the Montreal man, “I think Canadians look like all sorts of people. That’s the beauty of Canada.”
He was treated like a rockstar by his supporters on election night, who joined Singh in dance after his speech.
Read more: Election 2019