The Old Fire Hall was probably the happiest place in Whitehorse on Monday evening.
Liberal campaign workers and supporters began to gather there before the polls closed at 8 p.m. The mood in the room was quiet and slightly tense at first, despite the festive red balloons and streamers and the Sourdough Rendezvous can can dancers selling drinks as a fundraiser. Liberal Party president Devin Bailey buzzed about with nervous energy.
But the mood picked up by 9 p.m., as winning candidates started to show up. The cheers and applause only got louder as it became clear that the Liberals were not just winning, but headed toward a majority government.
“I think we’re about to see a big change in the Yukon, and it’s awesome,” said Nathalie Ouellet, who was campaigning for Jocelyn Curteanu in Copperbelt South.
By the time Liberal Leader Sandy Silver made his victory speech from Dawson City around 10:30 p.m., the room was packed and uncomfortably warm. But that didn’t seem to dampen any spirits.
“The candidates elected tonight are a strong group with plenty of experience. They have built budgets, they have passed laws and they know how to govern. We are ready to hit the ground running,” Silver said, to ear-splitting cheers.
Silver later tried to address his party faithful over FaceTime, but the connection repeatedly failed.
“Liberals for fibre optics!” someone shouted, and the party went on.
Three of Silver’s childhood friends from Nova Scotia were at the party in Whitehorse to support their old friend.
“I tried to talk him out of this six years ago… but then once he went into it, I said ‘I’m your biggest supporter’ and of course we all are,” said Paul MacDonald.
“I always knew he’d be a leader,” said Gord Barker. “He always was a leader.”
Aside from Silver, Jeanie Dendys was the star of the evening. She showed up at the Old Fire Hall before the results from her campaign against Yukon Party Leader Darrell Pasloski were made official, but news of her victory quickly spread through the room and the crowd erupted in cheers.
“We ran a really positive campaign,” Dendys said. “I wasn’t in this to hurt anyone. I was in this to offer something different, and that’s what I think people voted for.”
Dendys took Mountainview with a six-vote lead over the NDP’s Shaunagh Stikeman, a narrow enough victory that it will be subject to an automatic recount. Pasloski finished a close third, 40 votes behind Dendys.
Kwanlin Dun Chief Doris Bill, also present at the party on Monday, spoke highly of Dendys, who was the First Nation’s justice director.
“She’s well-liked within the community and I have no doubt that she’s going to work hard on behalf of the community,” she said.
But she also said Pasloski “worked hard” for McIntyre residents.
“He was a good MLA for our community. I worked well with him,” she said.
Dendys’ unseating of the premier wasn’t the only major upset of the night.
In Whitehorse West, Richard Mostyn won by 22 votes over incumbent Yukon Party MLA Elaine Taylor. Taylor was first elected in 2002, and is the longest-serving cabinet minister in Yukon history.
And in Riverdale South, Tracy McPhee beat NDP incumbent Jan Stick by 37 votes after a close race through much of the evening.
“I’m feeling really thankful for the team that I had that helped me do this,” McPhee said. “I could not have done it without them.”
Four Liberal wins came with margins of fewer than 25 votes. Pauline Frost’s margin over the Yukon Party’s Darius Elias in Vuntut Gwitchin was seven ballots, and will also be subject to a recount.
And in Mount Lorne-Southern Lakes, John Streicker defeated the NDP’s Kevin Barr by just 14 votes.
The Liberals all but routed the Yukon Party in Whitehorse. With the election of Nils Clarke, they turned Riverdale North red for the first time since Pat Duncan’s Liberal government was elected in 2000.
Ranj Pillai took Porter Creek South from the Yukon Party’s Mike Nixon, and Ted Adel took Copperbelt North, a seat currently held by the Yukon Party’s Currie Dixon, who decided not to seek re-election. Paolo Gallina won in Porter Creek Centre, after former Yukon Party MLA David Laxton decided not to run again.
The Liberal majority came as a surprise even to some Liberal supporters. Andrea Cook said she’d been expecting a minority.
“I thought the Yukon Party was going to have a lot of holdouts that were going to tip the balance into a minority,” she said. “But I think this is great because it means we’re going to get work done.”
But not everyone at the Liberal party had the night they were hoping for.
Jocelyn Curteanu narrowly lost to the Yukon Party’s Scott Kent in Copperbelt South. Eileen Melnychuk lost to the Yukon Party’s Geraldine Van Bibber in Porter Creek North. And Jeane Lassen finished well behind the NDP’s Kate White in Takhini-Kopper King.
The Grits also had a weaker showing in the communities, and allowed the Yukon Party to hold on to a number of rural seats. Mathieya Alatini in Kluane, Carl Sidney in Pelly-Nisutlin, Ernie Jamieson in Watson Lake and Alan Young in Lake Laberge all lost to Yukon Party incumbents.
“I’m okay. It was a good experience for me to run,” Young said. “I have no regrets.”
The Liberals’ Don Hutton did take Mayo-Tatchun, however, with a sizeable win over the NDP’s Jim Tredger.
Tamara Goeppel’s name barely crossed anyone’s lips in the Old Fire Hall on Monday. The Liberal hopeful in Whitehorse Centre lost to NDP Leader Liz Hanson, albeit by just 55 votes, after stirring up controversy for helping homeless people to fill out proxy ballots, likely violating the Elections Act. Goeppel did not make an appearance.
Liberal MP Larry Bagnell said it was good to see a Liberal victory after so many years out of power.
“When you’ve been through 30 years of elections, most of them losing, you wait a long time for a day like this, so it’s pretty exciting,” he said, as he sampled finger foods from the spread provided by the Chocolate Claim.
The whole evening was accompanied by the Ryan McNally band, who sat in the corner playing upbeat music as the numbers rolled in.
Early in the evening, Bailey explained that the band could switch to blues if things started to go south, which McNally himself confirmed.
“We can do it all,” he said.
Turns out, they didn’t have to.
Contact Maura Forrest at email@example.com