As I ran the poll results from the back room to the front for recording on our wall chart, I knew immediately the outcome wasn't going to be good. Over and over again in areas where the B.C. Liberal incumbent was already strong, his numbers were increasing. We were taking our fair share of polls, and I was encouraged to see increases in our key areas (as a Voter Contact Organizer for the local candidate, this was encouraging, as it showed I hadn't completely blown it). Still, by the time 9 pm rolled around, the truth had settled in: while we had increased our support above our 2009 result, we were going to lose.
It was a tough blow as I had returned from teaching overseas full of zeal and ready to fight for my candidate. We had crafted an incredible team of volunteers, foot canvassers, phone bank phoners, and we even had a sole individual dedicated to GOTV (Get Out The Vote). Wrap that up nicely with a stellar campaign manager, all behind the perfect candidate who came a very close second in 2009; I was convinced we couldn't lose.
We sat in the back room with our main team and candidate, some of us in tears, most in stunned disbelief. Our candidate made a gracious speech to the team, thanking us all for our weeks of hard work and dedication and promising that our work had not been in vain. My counterpart for the election stood beside me while I sat slumped in a chair, both of us nursing our cans of Okanagan Spring Pale Ale (he kept telling me how sweet it would taste once we won, so needless to say, it was bitter). We gathered and walked out to the waiting group of volunteers, and suppoerters (as well as local media) who all gave Mark a generous round of applause along with hearty chants of "MARK, MARK, MARK, MARK."
Mark made another speech, thanking everybody and promising that the Liberals would be held to account. I still didn't know the provincial outcome despite all the phones that were likely in the immediate vicinity. Maybe this night could still be salvaged, I thought? Maybe despite our failure to connect at the local level, we would have a much-needed change in government provincially.
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I felt a huge lump in the pit of my stomach, mouth agape, as I looked in shock at the TV in the corner of the room. CTV News declared a Majority Liberal government. How did this happen?
Many have been quick to blame Adrian Dix, the B.C. NDP's leader. The media piled on, speculating whether or not Dix would resign. He came out on May 22 declaring that he took sole responsibility for the loss and that there would be a full review with Adrian to stay on as leader for the foreseeable future to guide the process.
How did I feel initially about this? Well, I suppose there was a part of me that wanted to see blood for this defeat. We had fought a tough campaign here, never letting a day go to waste, touching every area of the riding, and doing our best to find resonance. Things were looking positive right up to the election day. I felt that night, as did others, that it was the provincial campaign that had stalled and pulled down a virtually flawless grassroots campaign in Vernon.
Angry and bitter, I wanted heads to roll.
I quickly got over my blood lust and realized the last thing we needed was a fractious, contentious, federal Liberal style, daggers out reaction to this defeat. I don't know Adrian well, but through the brief private and public encounters we've had I've grown to respect him a great deal, as I do his decision to stay on as leader. I trust his judgement. We need someone to guide us through our current malaise and as the leader at the helm of a crushing defeat, he is the one who is best equipped. Should there be grassroots involvement? Yes. Should there be some shakeup of what some have called the "old guard" of the party? Without question.
(As an aside, My grandfather has been a lifelong supporter of the NDP in B.C. and Manitoba and was so dissatisfied with what he saw as the same old team of insiders that he sat on his hands and didn't vote.)
At the end of the day, we need to stick together as a party and find our way through this current mire together. Casting the leader adrift, trying to install an interim leader and then having a convention to pick another leader not only seems wrong-headed but also seems like a useless exercise. The federal Liberals went through two very fractious leadership races and only now have seemed to put their bitter past behind them. It took them almost 10 years to get to a place of solidarity. We've already had 12 years of disastrous Liberal government in BC. Can we afford to have more because we are so internally divided?
At the end of the day, I'm proud of the campaign we ran locally. I'm proud of our candidate. I'm proud of our entire staff and dedicated volunteers. In the coming months we'll dust ourselves off, review what went wrong and be back stronger then before because what the people of B.C. need is an opposition that can do more then oppose. We need an opposition that can offer an alternative for British Columbians who are tired of Liberal mismanagement, lies and scandal.
There is hope yet for B.C.