‘Tonight is just the beginning,’ victor vows
That’s how Yukon New Democratic Party supporters were hailing their leader, Elizabeth Hanson, chanting that mantra, 40 minutes after polls closed for the Whitehorse Centre byelection Monday night.
Reduced to just one seat following last July’s death of former NDP leader and downtown MLA Todd Hardy, the byelection was the struggling party’s crucial game seven.
Anything less than victory would have dealt a crushing blow to the party that once ruled with two majority governments, but Hanson’s decisive win put to rest any thoughts of throwing in the towel.
“What we’ve seen over the last few months is the revitalizing of the hope of the NDP, and tonight is just the very beginning,” Hanson declared to supporters assembled at the High Country Inn.
And the results – Hanson, 356 votes, Liberal Kirk Cameron, 181, and Yukon Party candidate Mike Nixon, 150 – are a boon to party faithful and Hanson, who are now eyeing next year’s general election with confidence.
“I know there was a couple of NDPers down in Vancouver the other night to hear Leonard Cohen sing,” said Hanson, brimming to rewrite a line from the Canadian singer’s catalogue to match the occasion.
“‘First we take Whitehorse. Then we take Yukon!’”
The byelection win marks a new chapter for the 59-year-old former regional director for Indian Affairs – acclaimed to the NDP’s leadership more than 18 months ago – who was forced to watch legislative proceedings from the gallery.
For Boyd Piper, the Yukon NDP’s former president, Hanson’s win is a not only a boost for the party, but an exhortation to the ruling party and official Opposition.
“We held a seat that has been very loyal to us and we’ve been loyal to, as well. And we sent a clear, strong message to the government of Premier Dennis Fentie, that there’s a new show in town,” Piper said. “And (the win) told the Liberals, flat out, that they are not to take anything for granted.”
New Democratic Party giant Audrey McLaughlin, the first woman in Canada to lead a federal political party, was also at the victory party.
The former Yukon MP praised Hanson, and said her byelection win would spur the territorial party’s chances in the coming general election that Fentie must call no later than Oct. 14, 2011.
“It does mean a very positive future for the NDP for sure,” said McLaughlin. “A lot of people who are considering voting, they do look to the leader, and when they see Liz in the house, they’re going to see someone who’s a really strong voice for the Yukon.”
Mount Lorne MLA Steve Cardiff, who has been the NDP’s lone member in the legislative assembly following Hardy’s death, declared the Yukon NDP a force to be reckoned with in the coming election.
“The numbers speak for themselves. This is a landslide. I think it’s an amazing result,” said Cardiff. “It shows how in contact with the public and in tune with Yukoners the NDP is.”
Cardiff said the NDP has a history of working hard during elections and that Hanson’s win should quell any doubt in the party’s ability to garner votes.
“There’s been some talk that that (election) machine doesn’t function anymore,” Cardiff said. “I think the result tonight shows that it does function very well ... we’re on the rise here, we’re building momentum for the election that’s coming in 2011, and I’m looking forward to that.”
And so is Hanson, who urged her supporters to enjoy what was an early Christmas present for the New Democrats, but reminded supporters of the work ahead.
“Tonight is a really great night for celebrating,” Hanson said. “But come January, it’s 2011. And we are going to be going.
“We’re going to be going to Old Crow, to Watson Lake and Beaver Creek and places in between because the NDP is on the rise and we are going to take 2011.”
Doug Rody, a longtime campaign fixer for the Yukon’s New Democrats who assisted Hanson’s successful election run, was reserved in his enthusiasm, but reassured by the win he described as “crucial.”
“A clear majority, that’s a bonus,” said Rody of Hanson capturing 52 per cent of the vote.
“Such a solid result shows that as a leader she’s very well-received and popular, and that should bode well for the general election.”
And what of Hanson’s marching orders for NDP troops come next year?
“Liz would never give somebody orders, but she will be asking people to work, and I’m sure people will be coming forward, doing work on policy and that sort of thing.”