REGINA — After being shut out of the House of Commons for more than a decade, New Democrats managed to win three seats in Saskatchewan on Monday night.
The NDP took Saskatoon-West with candidate Sheri Benson, a CEO with the United Way, Regina-Lewvan with labour economist Erin Weir and the sprawling northern riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River with Georgina Jolibois, who has served four terms as mayor of La Loche.
NDP supporters in Regina alternated between jubilation and disappointment as Weir jockeyed for the lead with the Conservative candidate until nearly midnight.
Then finally the numbers put Weir ahead by 143 votes. Cheers erupted from the crowd.
"It was interesting. It was exciting. But at the end of the day, we knew it was going to be really close,'' said Weir.
Weir said a revamped electoral map was important to the party's fortunes in Saskatchewan.
The new boundaries didn't add any seats to Saskatchewan, but they dramatically changed the previous ones in Regina and Saskatoon. The old ridings used to resemble slices of pie, each with a corner of the city and then a large chunk of the rural countryside. The new electoral map boasts five urban-only seats.
"Saskatchewan used to be the only province that did not have pure urban ridings,'' said Weir.
"And I think it's a wonderful thing that we now have members of Parliament that can actually speak up clearly on behalf of the interests of Regina and Saskatoon, so I see the new boundaries as a clear improvement for our province and democracy.''
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River was also back and forth for most of the night.
Conservative Rob Clarke, who won the sprawling riding by 794 votes over NDP candidate Lawrence Joseph in 2011, jumped out to an early lead but then fell back to third place. Joseph, a well-known aboriginal leader, put his name forward for the Liberals this time around. He was neck-and-neck with Jolibois.
The NDP last won a seat in Saskatchewan in 2000, when Lorne Nystrom took Regina-Qu'Appelle for the New Democrats.
But Nystrom lost in 2004 to Conservative Andrew Scheer and the Tories have held a stranglehold on the province ever since.
"We're very relieved to be sending some New Democrats to Ottawa for the first time in five federal campaigns,'' said John Tzupa, the Saskatchewan director for the NDP's campaign.
"We have always had very strong showings in Saskatchewan. There's a large number of people who support the New Democratic Party and we're very happy to able to send a voice, some very strong voices, to Ottawa to represent those people.''
The Liberals retained a seat in Regina which has been held by Ralph Goodale for more than two decades.
The rest of the province went Tory blue.
Conservative incumbent Brad Trost held Saskatoon-University, thanks to a vote split between the NDP and the Liberals. Former speaker Andrew Scheer won Regina-Qu'Appelle for the Conservatives, while former broadcaster Kevin Waugh won Saskatoon-Grasswood for the Tories.
"It's a little surprising how well the Conservatives did in Saskatoon and Regina,'' said Charles Smith, a political scientist at the University of Saskatchewan.
"But for the first time in a long time we see non-Conservative seats and I think that's good for Saskatchewan's democracy in the long term.''
Goodale has a high profile and could play a key role in the new Liberal government. He has held several portfolios in the past, including finance under former prime minister Paul Martin.
"I think he's a shoe-in for cabinet,'' Smith said. "Experienced, well-liked ... I think he'll be a key member of the transition team.''
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