It was a night of anxiety for two local candidates on Monday night as Liberal incumbent Ken Boshcoff and NDP hopeful John Rafferty watched the numbers come in from polls across Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding.
“It was a bit of a nail-biter,” Rafferty said. “Naturally, it would have been nice if it had been a little closer the other way, but it was not to be this time.”
From the time the polls closed in Thunder Bay at 9:30 p.m. (EST) until the final poll reported around midnight, the two were in a tight race to win the seat.
Boshcoff was able to retain it in the end. But for almost the first hour, the two were separated by less than 100 votes.
The mood was sombre in the Boshcoff camp at the DaVinci Centre in Thunder Bay as Liberal supporters watched Rafferty pull into the lead at 10:20 p.m. (EST).
He maintained it through several poll reports, and was ahead of Boshcoff by 214 votes at one point.
Before 11 p.m., though, the incumbent pulled ahead and maintained the lead to the end—though with a margin of less than 200 votes until the last half-hour.
As the last polls came in, hope faded for NDP supporters as the gap between Rafferty and Boshcoff widened.
Although there still were a handful of polls to report, CTV News declared Boshcoff elected at 11:50 p.m. (EST).
The final tally (unofficial) was 13,525 votes for Boshcoff and 12,862 for Rafferty (35.1 and 33.4 percent of the vote, respectively).
Local Conservative David Leskowski finished third with 10,485 votes (27.2 percent), followed by Green candidate Russ Aegard with 1,189 (3.1 percent) and Marijuana candidate Doug MacKay with 424 votes (1.1 percent).
In the June, 2004 election, Boshcoff defeated Rafferty by a more comfortable margin of 3,509 votes.
“Over this period of time, we bore the brunt of what happened long before my time,” Boshcoff told his supporters after the outcome was clear.
“I’m never one to be presumptive. In this life, you always have to have two speeches,” he added. “I’m just glad the people still believe in me.”
Boshcoff attributed his win, in part, to his dedicated team of supporters and volunteers.
“I believe in large part that . . . our ability to deliver good constituency services . . . has a lot to do with these numbers,” he remarked.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your personal support,” he added. “It affects me deeply. It inspires me, and it only makes me want to work harder.”
Boshcoff had a special message for the Rainy River District.
“I sure hope people know I made the extra effort to be as available to people in the Rainy River District—because they’re the new part of the riding—as I am here in Thunder Bay,” he said.
“I will continue to be as available as humanly possible. I thoroughly enjoy being with people in the new part of the riding. It has been a wonderful experience,” he added.
Rafferty also was grateful to his supporters.
“My first comment is to thank the people at the west end of the riding—all the way from Rainy River right through Atikokan and to the outskirts of Thunder Bay—for the support they showed,” he said.
“I hope we can earn their confidence again and be ready to fight the next election,” he stressed.
“I think the campaign went very well. We ran a good campaign,” Rafferty noted. “We had lots of support across the riding, which was very heartening.
“The media was very supportive. It was very fair and accurate, and that’s a plus, too.”
Rafferty was pleased with the NDP’s performance across the country, where they gained 10 seats overall.
“We’ll play a critical role in the next Parliament as we did in the last, and we’ll continue to get results for people with Jack Layton,” he noted.
Rafferty said it was too early to say whether he would be prepared to run again.
Boshcoff, on the other hand, already was looking forward to the work that lay ahead as an opposition MP—and the next election, which could come soon under another minority government.
Before the election, Conservative leader Stephen Harper said he would promise to honour any Liberal funding announcements for one year should he be elected Prime Minister.
Sitting as an opposition MP, Boshcoff said his job would be to “be a champion for Northwestern Ontario.
“With [Thunder Bay-Superior North MP] Joe [Comuzzi] and with [Kenora MP] Roger [Valley], we still have some important work to do,” he noted. “We need to make sure the Conservatives don’t dismantle our support for municipalities.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Both candidates were dismayed by the success of the Conservative party on the national scene.
“It’s unfortunate we didn’t turn Northern Ontario NDP orange,” Rafferty said. “I think it would have been good for Northern Ontario, and it certainly would have been good for Northwestern Ontario.
“But never fear, we will keep their feet to the fire,” he pledged.
“I believe when this minority government falls—and [the Conservatives] are going to try and inflict so much damage on our country—the people of Canada will realize, ‘We’ve spanked you, but there must be remorse in any party,’” Boshcoff said.
“We will be back with a majority government in the next election,” he vowed.