Alex Atamanenko was re-elected in BC Southern Interior by a wide margin on Monday and will join about 100 of his NDP colleagues as the Official Opposition in the House of Commons.
With almost all of the polls across the riding reporting in by 10:30 p.m. on Monday night, Atamanenko sat with 51 per cent of the popular vote. In the 2008 election he won with 47.5 per cent of the vote.
“I felt positive throughout the campaign, and one of the reasons I did is because we had a bunch of new people helping out in each of the campaign offices,” Atamanenko said during his victory party at the Portuguese Hall in Castlegar on Monday evening. “And the vibe I got at the door was that people had, by and large, been happy with the work that my staff and I had been doing.”
His win was just one of dozens across the country for the NDP, as the party exploded in popularity — particularly in Quebec — and posted its highest seat count ever, by far.
Atamanenko said he’d be happy to stay on as the federal agriculture critic for the NDP but the job will become much more serious — and much more difficult — now that his party forms the Official Opposition to the Conservative Party’s majority government.
“I would suspect I’ll retain my role as agriculture critic, and basically it will be up to me … to make sure we move on with a Canadian food strategy, to make sure we don’t introduce further genetically modified organisms, to make sure cattle producers get a fair shake and we don’t have the GM apple introduced in Kelowna,” he said. “It’s a tremendous responsibility, not only in our party but on my shoulders, whatever portfolio I retain as a critic.”
Despite the NDP’s historic gains, Atamanenko said he was “not happy with the outcome federally” and worried about what the new Conservative government will do with its majority in the House of Commons.
“I think they’re going to try to ram through legislation,” Atamanenko said. “Their crime bills are going to go through, they’re going to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board. And any other legislation that they want to run, we’re not going to be able to stop them. We’re going to do our best, but it’s going to be very difficult.”
Conservative candidate Stephen Hill met with about 20 supporters at Rave’s Restaurant in Trail Monday, resigned as he watched Atamanenko cruise to victory but at the same time elated with the Conservative majority.
“It couldn’t be better,” Hill said. “We wiped out the Bloc, we wiped out the Liberals and we’ve got a majority government for four more years — that’s perfect. What I was trying to get across to people is ‘Do we want to be part of that or continue to be on the wrong side of the government?’”
The Rossland resident was critical of the NDP performance in the riding for the last six years suggesting Atamanenko may even retire before his third term is complete.
“We have the highest unemployment rate in British Columbia, we’ve lost 7,000 jobs in the last two years and half of downtown Trail is closed — it’s pretty obvious,” Hill said.
Green candidate Bryan Hunt didn’t capture the kind of attention he was looking for in the vast riding, which covers Salmo in the east to Princeton in the west and the U.S. border north to Kaslo, including Nelson.
“I think our country is sending the wrong message here,” he said from his home in Calgary. “I think allegations of elections fraud with the Conservatives and certainly the contempt of Parliament, which has never happened in our Canadian history, and the message we sent was ‘We’re OK with it.’”
But Hunt was having a celebration for his party leader Elizabeth May, who became the first-ever Green Party candidate to be elected to the House of Commons as she won her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.
“I think she’s going to hold (Harper’s) feet to the fire and try do things ethically there and overall it will be a good thing,” he said. “Even though it’s just one person, it’s a big signal.”
Hunt said the biggest challenge was reaching those who voted strategically.
“I had about an equal measure people saying I’d really like to vote for you but I’m afraid the Conservatives will get in so I’m voting for Alex” he said.
Liberal candidate Shan Lavell bottomed out with the least amount of votes, which isn’t surprising in a riding that has switched back and forth between the Tories and NDP for decades and hasn’t seen a federal Liberal in power for more than 100 years.
The 55-year-old with a nursing degree and a master’s degree in counselling psychology was selected to represent the riding after she failed to secure a seat in Okanagan/Coquihalla riding. The Kelowna resident could not be reached for comment by press time Monday night.
— This report was put together with files from Valerie Rossi, Jim Bailey, Andrea Klassen, Kim Magi and Robson Fletcher.