VICTORIA - It was a political nail-biter during which the lead changed at least half a dozen times between Victoria New Democrat Murray Rankin and the Green Party's Donald Galloway.
But Rankin, an environmental lawyer best known for offering backroom legal advice to New Democrats, emerged Monday as the new Victoria MP, replacing former NDP MP Denise Savoie, who announced her retirement from politics earlier this year.
Rankin said the see saw battle between the Greens and New Democrats, which at times turned into a scrap over single votes, sends a strong signal to the Conservative government in Ottawa that Victoria has serious concerns with Stephen Harper's environmental direction, especially when it comes to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
"We will not let you run roughshod over the people of B.C.," said Rankin, joined at the victory podium by federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. "We will not let you let this country become the Walmart of the world. This pipeline will be stopped."
Rankin helped B.C.'s provincial New Democrats develop its planned legal opposition to the Northern Gateway project, should the B.C. NDP win the May provincial election.
Environmental hearings are currently underway across B.C. and Alberta to assess Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB), plans to build a pipeline from northern Alberta to Kitimat, on B.C.'s northwest coast, where Alberta oil product will be placed on supertankers and shipped to Asia.
"The people of Victoria have sent a very clear message tonight, a clarion call that runs from Vancouver Island over the mountains, over the Prairies, all the way to Ottawa," said Rankin. "Mr. Harper, the people of Victoria have spoken to you today."
The final vote count had the NDP with 14,519 and the Green Party at 13,368. Conservative Dale Gann received 5,633 votes and Liberal Paul Summerville received 5,092.
The Libertarians received 194 votes and the Christian Heritage Party 191 votes.
Mulcair was on hand to congratulate Rankin on his victory.
"We know what our vision is," he said. "We know that we're the only team that can stand up to Stephen Harper."
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said in a statement that the Greens showed in Monday's three byelections they are a growing political force in Canada.
Galloway, with 34 per cent of the vote finished second in Victoria. In Calgary Centre, Chris Turner placed a strong third, with 25 per cent of the vote. In Durham in Ontario, Virginia Ervin received four per cent of the vote.
"For the Green Party of Canada, these byelections mark a new stage," said May's statement. "Tonight's results demonstrate people trust us in numbers greater than ever. We now need to build on that trust and offer every Canadian a real choice in 2015."
Rankin said the Northern Gateway pipeline and climate change proved to be stronger environmental issues in the Victoria campaign than the headline-grabbing debate over sewage treatment.
The Liberals, Conservatives and Greens came out strongly against Victoria's $783-million sewage treatment plan, with Rankin in favour on the grounds that Ottawa and the B.C. government have already committed two-thirds of the funds and its time to get on with the job.
Summerville and Gann, rejecting his own party's financial support of the Victoria plan, said Victoria shouldn't be wasting its money on treating sewage, but voters didn't agree, said Rankin.
"My opponents managed to make it a big issue, but I don't think that at the end of the day it was a significant determinant of this byelection," he said.
In the other byelections, Conservative Joan Croakatt won Calgary Centre and in the Ontario riding of Durham, Conservative Erin O'Toole easily reclaiming the seat vacated by former cabinet minister Bev Oda.
The House of Commons standings prior to Monday's byelections had the Conservatives safely in majority territory with 163 of a possible 308 seats. The NDP was next at 100 seats, followed by the Liberals at 35.
The Bloc Quebecois has four seats, while three others are held individually by Elizabeth May of the Green party, Conservative Independent Peter Goldring and Independent Bruce Hyer.