New Democrat Wayne Stetski won a nailbiter on Monday night that came down to the last two polls.

COLUMN: Stetski! No, Wilks! No, Stetski! No, Wilks! No …

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What a finish. Election night in Kootenay-Columbia was incredibly exciting but also incredibly long, with the outcome not assured until the last two voting stations reported their results shortly before midnight — nearly five hours after polls closed in BC.

Conservative David Wilks and New Democrat Wayne Stetski exchanged the lead early on, but then Wilks held it for a long time and seemed headed for victory. In fact, CBC and the Canadian Press declared him elected.

One hapless broadcaster claimed Wilks had it in the bag, and when chided by a fellow announcer that the race may be too close to call, he admitted things could change — but then insisted that nah, they wouldn’t.

The lead see-sawed three or four more times after that point. I’m glad we waited until the very end before declaring Stetski the victor.

When New Democrat Alex Atamanenko first ran for office in BC Southern Interior in 2004 against Jim Gouk, he led for most of the evening before Gouk snatched victory at the very end. But this nailbiter easily topped that one.

If there is any question whether your vote counts, even in our imperfect first-past-the-post system, here’s proof. But we’ll see if the Liberals make good on their promise of electoral reform. Will Justin Trudeau display the same eagerness to get rid of the old system now that it has given him a majority government?

•••

Turnout in Kootenay-Columbia was 73.8 per cent and in South Okanagan-West Kootenay, 73.6 per cent.

That’s compared to 66 per cent in BC Southern Interior in 2011. It’s also the highest in our area dating back to at least 1997 (I couldn’t find turnout figures older than that).

We’ll have to wait a while, however, for poll-by-poll breakdowns to see who won the Community Voter Challenge, in which municipalities and regional district electoral areas competed to see who could plump the federal vote the most over 2011. We’ll also learn how each community voted.

•••

When the new riding boundaries were adopted, splitting the former BC Southern Interior riding between Kootenay-Columbia and the new South Okanagan-West Kootenay, some people called it gerrymandering to ensure Conservative victories in both ridings.

While I never believed that, I did agree the redrawn boundaries made it nearly impossible for the New Democrats to win, since Cranbrook and Penticton, the hubs of the respective ridings, were Conservative strongholds.

Shows what I know. The NDP’s Dick Cannings easily won South Okanagan-West Kootenay, and for most of the night Conservative challenger Marshall Neufeld was actually third behind the Liberals’ Connie Denesiuk before coming from behind to shore up second place.

•••

Although Justin Trudeau’s ties to our area are the result of tragedy, it certainly can’t hurt to have a prime minister who can find us without consulting a map.

Trudeau’s brother Michel died in an avalanche in 1998 that swept him into Kokanee Lake. Justin has been here several times since, most recently in July 2013.

Three other former prime ministers also have close connections to West Kootenay: Justin’s father Pierre, for the same unfortunate reason; John Turner, who lived in Rossland for a while — his mother was born there; and Sir Charles Tupper, briefly prime minister in 1896, who owned mining claims in the Slocan. In the fall of 1897, Tupper visited with another short-lived former prime minister, Mackenzie Bowell, and London capitalist Charles Askworth.

“The trio are undoubtedly the most distinguished visitors Slocan City has ever had,” a local newspaper wrote.

•••

Before the election, West Kootenay was represented by an opposition New Democrat member of parliament. After the election, West Kootenay will be represented by … two opposition New Democrat members of parliament.

But it’s a sea change in East Kootenay, which has not had an NDP MP since Sid Parker from 1988 to 1993.

 

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