To say Liberals in the new Kenora-Rainy River riding were expecting a closer race between NDP leader Howard Hampton and Liberal incumbent Frank Miclash would be an understatement.
Miclash himself admitted he was feeling “comfortable” going into the election--especially since the latest poll done by Oracle/MCTV showed him with a four percent lead over Hampton.
But when the votes were tallied last Thursday night, Hampton emerged with a 3,100-vote victory. The key was the 20-plus northern aboriginal communities which solidly backed Hampton this time after voting Liberal in 1995.
“It’s sadness,” noted Andrew Poirier, who has helped out with Miclash’s campaigns since 1990.
“We had a good representative for Queen’s Park in the old Kenora riding,” Poirier added. “Personally, I think the new Kenora-Rainy River riding made a mistake and sent the wrong individual back to Toronto.”
Poirier said he expected the Liberals to do a lot better locally, a sentiment also echoed by Miclash, especially concerning how Hampton swept the northern communities.
“I would have to get out there and find out what made them go that way,” Miclash said after the polls had come in. “They supported me in the past.
“I have no reason as to what influenced their decision,” he added.
Miclash also noted the Liberals were hoping PC challenger Lynn Beyak would retain a lot of the votes she had garnered in the former Rainy River riding in 1995, but didn’t.
“Again, I lived with the fact that we were up against a leader of the third party,” Miclash said. “[Hampton] certainly had a great amount of press above and beyond [the other candidates] in the rest of the riding.”
< *c>Moments of hope
At first, it seemed like the polls about a tight race between Miclash and Hampton were correct in the early going last Thursday evening.
On the tally board in Miclash’s campaign office in Kenora, the Liberals were off to an early lead and by 7:30 p.m., it read Miclash ahead of Hampton by nearly 700 votes.
But those figures seemed to contradict reports from CBC Newsworld, which had Hampton leading and--by 8 p.m.--were projecting him as the winner here.
The news initially was treated with skepticism. Joe Gagné, a self-proclaimed “strong” Liberal, believed it was still too early in the evening to make that call.
“Most of the polls in the Kenora area aren’t in yet and I wouldn’t want to make a statement that Hampton took it here,” Gagné said, noting time would tell who would be the out and out winner.
But the sooner the winner was determined, the better, he noted, saying it would be a lot easier on the nerves. “You don’t feel like eating until everything is over,” he remarked.
By 8:30 p.m., the media at Miclash’s office discovered the CP papers were predicting Hampton to win by 3,000 votes. When one reporter tried confirming this with those running the Liberal tally board, they were told there was trouble with the computer and the line to the person they had at the returning office was down, too.
At 8:45 p.m., the party faithful begin filtering from the campaign office to the Knights of Columbus Hall where Miclash was holding his post-election reception.
By 9 p.m., any hopes of Miclash winning were given up for good.
< *c>Farewell speeches
It wasn’t long after that Miclash showed up to a standing ovation. He made his way around the room, shaking hands and offering thanks to his supporters.
He even had a surprise waiting for him in the form of his mother, June, who flew in from Ladysmith, B.C.
Miclash’s composure broke down just a little as he tried to console his mother, who burst into tears shortly after seeing her son. But Miclash put on his best face again as he turned to speak to the crowd.
“As you know, we’ve had 12 years of great success in the Kenora riding,” he said. “Mike Harris decided to make it the Kenora-Rainy River riding and at that point, we knew our work was cut out for us.
“But I guess we came up to a tough fight, a fight that has put a leader of another party in Queen’s Park,” he added.
Miclash thanked his volunteers and supporters for helping in a “gruelling 28 days” of campaigning, especially Kenora campaign manager Jeff Enchols.
He tried to start a joke on how he had spent the last week trying to get hold of his mother, leaving tons of messages on her machine to see if she would be coming, when his head dropped and his voice choked with emotion--an action which got a sympathetic round of applause from the crowd on hand.
“I didn’t expect my mother to turn up from Ladysmith tonight,” he said afterwards. “It’s not the result I wanted for her, of course, but I’m glad she’s here.”
Miclash said he plans to stay in Kenora although he was uncertain what he’ll be doing next. Whatever it is he does do, however, he said it will be in Kenora.
“What I’m going to do now is sit back and collect my thoughts,” he remarked. “And I’ve got some great, great friends in the room here and just get on with [life].
“As David Peterson said, the next morning you have to move onwards and upwards,” he recounted.