The mood at the Kebabery went from festive to forlorn on the drop of a dime Monday evening.
Liberal party faithful gathered there were ready for a win, and if not, they at least hoped for a tight race in a traditionally New Democratic riding.
Their candidate, Kirk Cameron, had an impressive resume in government, was a good speaker and had a long history in downtown Whitehorse.
The voting predictions from the campaign team were good and the mood of the 20 or so people there was confident.
And then the numbers came in.
Though the results were early, they were unequivocal.
Cameron mustered 181 votes, around half of New Democrat Elizabeth Hanson’s 356. Cameron pulled fewer votes than previous Liberal candidate Bernie Phillips, who got 211 in the 2006 general election.
It was the byelection’s two-to-one margin that shocked the room.
“I thought it would be close – that was my sense all along,” said Cameron, when he arrived at the Kebabery shortly after the results came in.
“This is a little bit of a surprise.”
The Liberals thought they had just under 300 confirmed votes before election night, said Jason Cunning, the caucus chief of staff.
That figure – however it was reached – was wildly wrong.
Despite this failure to properly assess the ground war, Cameron didn’t criticize the campaign machine.
“I think I had an amazing team,” he said. “I think I had huge support from people in the party and many people in downtown Whitehorse.
“I don’t think we could have had more effort extended by more people than what we did.”
Cameron might have tailored his message if he did the race again.
“If we were going into another byelection, maybe,” he said.
“But now we’re going into a general election.
“We have to put in the framework for a completely different run the next time around.”
He might have better luck with a party platform to campaign on in a general election, he said.
Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell won’t change his tactics and go after the New Democrats in the legislature after Monday’s vote.
“I’m not interested in going after the NDP,” said Mitchell. “We’re there as the official opposition to hold the government accountable.”
There was some confusion on whether Cameron would run again.
Before Cameron arrived at the Kebabery, Mitchell said Cameron would hit the streets in a general election.
“I think Kirk has always known that he was going to run twice, not once,” said Mitchell. “I’m sure he’ll need some time to rest up and then he’ll be out there knocking on doors again.
“That’s lots of people, myself included, who didn’t win their first time out.”
But Cameron himself was less committal.
“I’m going to be spending some time out talking to people and getting their opinions,” he said.
“That will help me make up my mind.”
Cameron wants to talk with crowds he didn’t meet and wasn’t able to sway.
“Obviously I’m not connecting with some people, because they voted in a large block for Liz,” he said.
The Liberals will analyze what happened to better prepare for the next election, but no one was willing to suggest what exactly went wrong.
“We’ll analyze the vote, we’ll look at everything we did in the campaign and we’ll try and do better next time,” said Mitchell.
During an all-candidates debate last week, Cameron’s partner asked Hanson a question without identifying her party affiliation or relationship.
Hanson was head of Indian and Northern Affairs in Yukon when a discriminatory housing policy against First Nations was in place in 2003, said Roxanne Livingstone, Cameron’s partner.
A homeless man died during the policy, and Livingstone asked for clarification on what Hanson was doing at the time.
The Liberals don’t know yet if the incident had a big impact on voters.
“It’s too soon to know that,” said Mitchell. “But I doubt any single event makes a difference in the vote we’ve seen.”
Both men praised the choices voters had in this election and wished Hanson well in her new job.
“We know she’ll do her best to represent Whitehorse Centre,” said Mitchell.
Contact James Munson at firstname.lastname@example.org