For a few fleeting moments, Don Inverarity’s booming voice lifted downtrodden Liberal spirits at the Gold Rush Inn Tuesday night.
“We’re going to the big time,” Inverarity screamed after learning of his victory in Porter Creek South.
Smiles, laughter and applause broke out around the room.
Despite running against Yukon Party candidate — and former Pelly-Nisutlin MLA — Dean Hassard, Inverarity had retained the symbolically important seat of former Liberal premier Pat Duncan.
He won by a hair, taking 304 votes to Hassard’s 298.
“Six votes says it all,” said Inverarity. “We’re all in for that kind of a battle tonight; I think we’re going to do alright here.”
Within moments his predictions seemed to come true.
News that Darius Elias had taken Vuntut Gwitchin from incumbent Lorraine Peter, the New Democrat MLA who has held the seat for two terms, added fuel to the fire Inverarity built.
But just as the flames started they were quickly blown out.
Liberal candidate Lesley Cabbott and Yukon Party incumbent Ted Staffen had been running neck and neck all night in Riverdale-North.
As Staffen was announced the victor at about 9:05 p.m., the mood in the room went cold.
The faithful made their way towards the bar, and party mandarins left the room.
They knew it was over.
“There’s lots of candidates that appear to be on the wrong side of the horse race tonight,” said a victorious — but tempered — Gary McRobb, after learning the Yukon Party had taken 10 of 18 seats, leaving the Liberals with five and the NDP with three.
McRobb won decisively in Kluane, with 317 votes to Yukon Party candidate Jim Bowers’ 176.
He and fellow Liberal newbie Eric Fairclough — MLA for Mayo-Tatchun — had retained their seats, as had Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell in Copperbelt.
For the first time in his long political career, McRobb came to Whitehorse to share the election results with his party instead of staying in his riding.
The move spoke volumes of how much McRobb’s switch meant for his hope of a position in government, not a continuation of life in opposition.
But Inverarity and Elias were the only others to join McRobb, Fairclough and Mitchell in success.
“Hopefully we can draw on the successes and make the best of it,” said McRobb.
Some had more emotion riding on the result than even McRobb or Mitchell.
“Eight votes and three losses in one year — obviously politics is not something that is going well for me,” said a visibly shaken Ed Schultz.
Schultz had carried the Liberal flag in McIntyre-Takhini, but lost by eight ballots to incumbent John Edzerza, who ran for the NDP.
“Obviously the Creator has something else in mind for me,” said Schultz.
For the most part, however, the Liberals quickly accepted defeat and sought positives within Tuesday’s result.
“I’m pretty happy with the five Liberals that have gotten in there,” said Scott Kent, a former Liberal cabinet minister who was defeated in 2002 by Archie Lang in Porter Creek Centre.
“I think we’ve got a good solid team, a good solid base to build from,” he said.
“The ridings were so close; I thought they could go either way from just being on the doorstep.”
Such a close, unpredictable race — which many believed could have gone to the Liberals but ended up in the lap of the Yukon Party — was ultimately decided by the economy, said Duncan.
“There was not a mood for change, and that much has been very clear,” she said.
“What worries me about the legislature, there’s a real shortage of women in there.
“That is a real disappointment for me.”
Only two female MLAs — Elaine Taylor and Marian Horne of the Yukon Party — were victorious Tuesday.
As speeches from a triumphant Dennis Fentie and an energetic Todd Hardy played on televisions in the room, Mitchell made his way to the stage.
“It wasn’t the result that we were all working for, but it is a great beginning,” said Mitchell to a quiet, reserved band of supporters.
“Our party is stronger tonight than we were four years ago, and we’re not done growing,” he said.
Mitchell singled out Hardy as an inspiration for the courage he had shown fighting the campaign while also fighting leukemia.
Following his speech, Mitchell conceded the vote went to the Yukon Party because of the economy.
“It’s very difficult to run against a strong economy, and the economy in Yukon, as in all of Western Canada … and all of Canada … has been strong over the past few years,” said Mitchell.
“I think people felt they were willing to give the current government enough credit for that to carry forward.
“I take my hat off to them,” he said.
“I’m hoping they’ve learned some lessons from those areas where we think we were rightfully criticizing them.”
Though the Liberal Party is re-invigorated, Mitchell knows the ultimate goal, to form government, will have to wait up to five years.
“Last time we were reduced to one seat; this time we have five,” he said.
“I think Yukoners wanted to see us spend more time in the legislature and have more experienced members before electing us to government.”
Asked if he will be leading the party in the next election, Mitchell refused to speculate.
“I certainly expect to lead the party moving forward, but that’s ultimately for the party to decide in the coming years,” he said.
Inverarity was reeling with conflicted emotions as supporters slowly filed out of the room Tuesday night.
“I thought for sure we were going to take at least 10, maybe 11 seats in this,” he said.