Kerrie-Ann Schoenit, Jessica Peters, Robert Freeman
NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony has won the Chilliwack-Hope byelection.
The NDP garnered 41.19 per cent of the vote, followed by Liberal Laurie Throness with 31.39 per cent, BC Conservative John Martin with 25.32, and Libertarian Lewis Clarke Dahlby with 2.10. The total number of ballots was 14,000.
“I’m overjoyed and completely honoured to be voted in as the next MLA for this area,” said O’Mahony, to a large crowd of NDP supporters that packed into Bravo Restaurant on Thursday night. “I’m humbled by the amount of support. It was exciting to see that we started out strong in the polls and maintained it.”
O’Mahony pointed out that her journey to victory started three years when she first ran for the NDP in Chilliwack-Hope. Since then she’s been inspired by former federal NDP leader Jack Layton, who was elected as an MP on his third campaign.
“I carried his message of not giving up despite what you’re being told,” said O’Mahony. “I’ve got a year and a bit to show myself and prove myself. I know that trust and respect is something that is earned and not given away. I can’t wait to get to work for this wonderful community.”
Looking ahead, O’Mahony said her first priority will be trying to establish an office in Hope and Chilliwack to increase accessibility with constituents.
O’Mahony was joined by provincial NDP Leader Adrian Dix, who noted the byelection was about presenting positive ideas and respecting voters.
“Here in Chilliwack-Hope you’re going to see a change in representation. You’re going to see someone who fights for the people of this community,” he said. “We ran ran a positive campaign about things that mattered to people, like training for young people, appropriate and respectful care for seniors, and a better economy with better jobs.”
Martin conceded defeat just before 9:30 p.m. He later stopped by the NDP gathering at Bravo Restaurant shortly after 10 p.m. to congratulate O’Mahony and Dix on their win.
Earlier, he told supporters that while this battle may be lost, the fight is far from over. Martin said the BC Conservatives are keeping their eyes on the bigger prize.
“The public has spoken clearly that they want change,” he told supporters at campaign headquarters, just over an hour after polls closed. “The beneficiary of that change is the NDP … and we have no sour grapes whatsoever.”
He said the gains they were able to make in the past few months show just how far the once-down and out provincial Conservatives have come.
“We have come so far in so short a time,” he said, and they are now going to be getting ready for “the big show in 13 months.”
Martin rejected suggestions the Conservatives and Liberals split the vote.
“This is a democracy. Every vote is a split,” he tsaid “Unless you’re in North Korea.”
BC Conservative leader John Cummins met with reporters early in the evening at Martin’s campaign headquarters.
He said if the Conservatives can hold onto 20 to 25 per cent of the votes in Chilliwack-Hope, they have a good chance at success in the next general election.
“It shows we’re a solid, established, force to be reckoned with when elections come again in 13 months,” he told a mass of reporters at the Conservative headquarters.
The time between this by-election and the next election will give the revitalized party a chance to get “better organized on the ground,” he said. “I think we have come a long way in the year.”
But former Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Chuck Strahl, no stranger to conservative in-fighting at the federal level, said “it’s not like the BC Conservatives are on a roll” and have supplanted the BC Liberals as the voice of conservative voters.
“They came in third – there’s a message there,” he said.
He said small-c conservatives must find a way to heal the divisions between the two parties, or face more NDP victories.
“It’s got to be done or else the NDP will consistently get 40-45 per cent of the vote and they will win,” he said.
BC Liberal candidate Laurel Throness agreed.
“There has to be a coalition or else we will get the NDP and perhaps this (byelection loss) is a demonstration, an object lesson for the rest of B.C., about what happens when you split the vote,” he said.
“Perhaps it might spur some kind of a unity movement. I hope it does.”
Throness also urged the government to continue its free-enterprise policies in order to win the next provincial election.
“We are the party that led they way to a balanced budgets and to lower taxes in Canada, good health and social programs,” he said. “I think the people of B.C. will affirm that in May, 2013.”