A subdued NDP leader Howard Hampton called his victory “bittersweet” after he handily won the new amalgamated Kenora-Rainy River riding last Thursday but watched as his party only won nine seats across the province.
The Tories under Mike Harris won a second majority government with 59 seats while the Liberals captured 35 to form the official Opposition.
Hampton said most of the support he had anticipated went to the Liberals through “strategic voting.”
The new Kenora-Rainy River riding was expected to be a dog-fight between incumbents Hampton and Kenora Liberal MPP Frank Miclash, who also was seeking his fourth consecutive term at Queen’s Park.
But by 9:05 p.m. Miclash had lost his bite and the traditional chant of “Howie, Howie . . .” began among the modest gathering of Hampton supporters on hand for a victory party at the Red Dog Inn here.
A visibly-moved Hampton took the stage and launched into his victory speech behind a podium that read “The Harris Fighter.”
“I’m very happy with my personal victory. I am obviously disappointed with the results across the province,” he began.
“But in a democracy, people decide and tonight the people have decided and no matter how much I may philosophically disagree with the result, that is the result,” he remarked.
The final tally saw Hampton win 14,188 votes, followed by Miclash at 11,071. Conservative challenger Lynn Beyak garnered 5,507 while Independent Richard Bruyere wound up with 883.
Voter turnout in the new riding, which had some 55,000 eligible voters, was just under 58 percent.
Hampton’s 3,117-vote bulge was much more comfortable than his slim 205-vote margin over Beyak in 1995 in the former Rainy River riding. CBC declared him the winner at 7:47 p.m.--seven minutes after projecting the Conservatives would form another majority government.
The final results were surprising to everyone but local NDP campaign organizers.
“At least in this area, we went out and targeted our vote. We knew who was going to support us and we went out there and got them and made sure they went to the polls,” said Christine Brown, Hampton’s sister and campaign organizer.
Hampton was quick to thank the northern aboriginal ridings that voted overwhelmingly NDP last Thursday. In Kasabonika, for example, Hampton outpolled Miclash by a whopping 155-2 margin.
Aboriginal supporters in the crowd returned the praise by shouting “Miigwich,” which thank you in Ojibway.
Hampton also took the opportunity to defend the NDP platform, saying it was the only one that “moved” people during the campaign. And at a press conference Friday morning, he blamed his party’s poor showing on “strategic” voting.
“I would argue that strategic voting helped the Conservative government to a larger majority than they otherwise would have received,” he told reporters. “In fact, it may have given them a majority when otherwise they would have had a minority.”
He also defended the NDP platform, and said it was the only one that “moved people” during the campaign. He also compared it to previous ones.
“For me, personally, this campaign was not as tough as the 1995 [one]. In the 1995 campaign there was so much emotion and volatility out there,
“In this campaign, it was clear what we were opposed to. It was clear to most of the people in this constituency what choice we were offering,” he remarked.
“And people know my record. They know the kinds of issues I’ve worked on, they know my successes,” he continued. “So it was much more predictable than what I experienced in 1995.”
Hampton also defended his leadership.
“I will [take responsibility]. I’m the leader of the party. I had a major say in what our point of view was going to be; the way we were going to conduct the campaign,” he told reporters.
“I conducted the campaign day in and day out the way I thought it should be, and I take responsibility for that,” he stressed.
Hampton said his future will be decided by the party, and added he is not interested in federal politics.
This was Hampton’s sixth election campaign--and fourth win. He has been in politics since becoming student council president of Fort Frances High School in 1970, and still has plenty of supporters.
“His parents come from an average working generation so he knows what it’s all about,” said Herman Pruys.
“I have considered him an honest man, which is different for a politician,” echoed Art Pattison, a card-carrying member of the NDP.