When Ronna-Rae Leonard called John Duncan to congratulate him on taking the Vancouver Island North riding once again late Monday night, the incumbent MP told her the election wasn’t over yet.
But trailing by about 1,300 votes with three polls yet to report, the NDP candidate conceded defeat just before 10:30 p.m. Monday, telling about 80 supporters at the Elks Hall in Courtenay that it was looking like a “John Duncan day.”
“We can’t say for absolute certainty, but at this point … I want to be fair to acknowledge that John Duncan has run a campaign that looks like he’s going to take the day,” she said.
Leonard, a Courtenay city councillor who was running in her first federal election campaign, was quick to thank all her supporters and her campaign team.
“You’ve done a tremendous job, from the tip of the Island over to the Mainland and down to Fanny Bay, every one of our little islands and every little nook and cranny has been approached by somebody, and the word is out, and the NDP is still a strong force in this riding,” she said. “It’s not looking too good at this moment, it’s probably going to be a John Duncan day, but there’s a lot of people who need representation, and the strength we’ve shown in the last five weeks is going to come through over the next bit of time, and we’ll continue to hold Mr. Duncan’s feet to the fire, and we’ll be around for the next battle.”
When asked if she will run again, Leonard answered, “Yeah, absolutely.”
“There’s a lot of reason to be a part of this organization and represent these values,” she said.
Throughout the night, television reports showed the lead in this sprawling riding changing hands between Leonard and Duncan numerous times, with only hundreds of votes separating them at most times.
“It’s a very close riding,” said Leonard. “It’s been like this election after election after election, which is one of the reasons that I’m so proud that the NDP wants to see proportional representation.”
Monday night was considered an historic night for the NDP nationally, as the party achieved Official Opposition status for the first time.
Former NDP MP Catherine Bell, who served in Parliament from 2006 to 2008 and ran against Duncan in the 2008 federal election, was excited to see so much support for the NDP across the country.
“I think the voters of Canada have seen something in the NDP that they haven’t seen from the other parties, and that’s the message of hope Jack Layton puts forward, it’s talking about the issues rather than smear campaigns,” she said. “Because of what the NDP puts forward, our version of social justice and talking about issues that affect ordinary families, health care, education … all the things Canadians are talking about, those things are going to be more front and centre in Ottawa because that’s what our party is talking about.”
Leonard encouraged her supporters to be proud of Layton and the strength the party now has in Parliament.
“This is a major victory for Canada, and we can celebrate with them because it’s as much our victory as the rest of Canada’s,” she said. “We’ll do what we can to support them through the next little while and make sure the voice of Vancouver Island North continues to be heard.”
In conceding defeat, Leonard was disappointed but proud of her campaign team and of her party.
“I would have liked very much to have taken it for all the people who have worked so hard and to be a part of the great thing that’s happened in this election, the NDP becoming the Official Opposition … that is an historic moment in Canadian history,” she said. “I’m just so proud of the numbers we got out there. It doesn’t feel like a defeat when you have such strong numbers in terms of the team. They’ve been very committed and spent so much time and so much energy and were always so positive. It’s felt good the whole way along.”