A rather subdued crowd of about 30 supporters gathered in Conservative candidate Ryan Leef’s campaign headquarters on Monday night as he conceded defeat to Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell.
Leef claimed 24 per cent of the vote with 4,800 ballots, finishing well behind Bagnell, who won nearly 54 per cent of the vote with 10,715 ballots.
It’s a far cry from the 2011 federal election results, when Leef narrowly beat Bagnell by just 132 votes.
The Liberal sweep in the Yukon mirrors the red tide across Canada, which saw Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau win a surprise majority government with 184 seats, up from just 34 in 2011. The Conservatives won 99 seats, down from 166 four years ago.
“Tonight, democracy didn’t fail. Our efforts didn’t fail,” Leef said in his concession speech. “Democracy worked and Canada got the change it was looking for. Our territory got the change it was looking for.
“Don’t worry. The sun will come up tomorrow.”
Leef asked his supporters to rally behind Bagnell, who was previously the Yukon’s member of Parliament from 2000 to 2011.
“The success of this territory absolutely depends on the success of Larry,” he said. “So he’s going to need your support. Don’t … throw him under the bus when he makes a mistake, because he’s bound to. We all do. But our territory requires us to be together with him and for him.”
He also spoke highly of NDP and Green candidates Melissa Atkinson and Frank de Jong.
Despite his conciliatory words on Monday, Leef spent much of this campaign attacking Bagnell over the long-gun registry. In 2010, Bagnell voted to keep the registry, despite having told Yukoners he opposed it. He maintains that the Liberals will not reinstate a registry, while Leef has insisted they will.
Monday’s results, however, suggest that Yukoners have moved past this issue, at least for the time being.
And Leef readily accepted responsibility for the disappointing outcome. “I don’t break this down to just an 80-day campaign. I had four years,” he said. “And if Yukoners don’t feel that the four years that I worked was deserving of return, then that’s their will. And I have to respect that.”
He said he went for a run earlier on Monday to find some peace of mind and prepare himself for whatever voters decided.
Many people at Leef’s campaign headquarters seemed surprised by the extent of the Liberal victory as they watched the red wave move across the country on an overhead TV screen. Leef and Yukon Senator Dan Lang both said they were watching Conservative friends and colleagues lose their jobs.
“We lost some good members of Parliament who’ve worked very hard over the last number of terms,” Lang said. “That’s the fallout. When these things happen, people’s lives get affected and it becomes very personal.”
Lang said he’s anticipating changes to the Senate under a new Liberal government. Trudeau has promised to create a new, non-partisan process for Senate appointments. But the senator of six years said he isn’t concerned. “I’m never worried about it. I’ll just be part of it.”
Though the event was quiet – no music, little fanfare – Leef’s supporters didn’t seem overly discouraged by the loss. Michael Lauer, the party’s official agent, reflected on the campaign as he sold wine in plastic cups for five dollars a glass.
“(Leef) takes it head-on like he takes most things in life,” he said. Despite the loss, Lauer has no plans to leave the Conservative Party. “I’ve been working for the party since 1979, so I have no reason to quit now.”
Lauer’s son, 12-year-old Simon, was likely the youngest supporter at the event. He was dressed in a blue jacket, emblazoned with “Harper 2015” that reached almost down to his ankles.
“I think that (Leef’s) been a really good guy for the last four years,” he said. “I mean, I think he’s just been doing really good, and I think that’s a reason to support him.”
Pat McInroy, the Yukon Conservative Party president, also seemed reconciled to the results. “It’s not my ideal person that’s going to be representing us in Ottawa, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. That’s why we have elections.”
McInroy did harbour some bitterness about the amount of time he spent cleaning graffiti off Leef’s campaign signs and righting signs that were repeatedly knocked over during the last two months. He said the other parties didn’t have to deal with the same problem.
“We had that one big windstorm and I’ll let those ones go, but the wind wasn’t blowing every night for 78 days.”
McInroy said he was most impressed by Leef’s ambition and his ability to retain information during this marathon campaign.
“I thought he handled himself very well in all the debates,” he said. “They were not exactly friendly audiences at most of them. He tried to give Yukoners the facts, and I’m proud of him for doing that, absolutely.”
During his concession speech, Leef promised his supporters that his political life isn’t over.
“I can assure you that this is not the last you’re going to see of me in politics,” he said, adding that he hasn’t made any decisions about what his next move will be.
For now, he said, he plans to spend more time with his family. “My son has dedicated four years of his life… to the Yukon and to the country. And it’ll be great to be a dad again.”
On Tuesday, Premier Darrell Pasloski released a statement congratulating Bagnell on his win. Last week, the premier publicly endorsed Leef’s campaign.
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