Rookie NDP candidate sees positives in her first campaign

Before the pizzas were out of the ovens at the NDP’s post-election party, those in the know were calling a win for a Liberal federal government.

Before the pizzas were out of the ovens at the NDP’s post-election party, those in the know were calling a win for a Liberal federal government.

But that didn’t stop the crowds from filing in to Whitehorse’s Epic Pizza to congratulate the NDP’s first-time candidate Melissa Atkinson.

They milled around – beer and slices in hand – and watched as that projected Liberal government grew into a majority and the NDP was pushed to the third party in the House of Commons.

In the Yukon, Atkinson led for a moment after the first few polls were reported. But once the eventual winner, the Liberal’s Larry Bagnell, took over, there was no looking back.

She would finish third with 3,890 votes, or 19.5 per cent. That’s an increase from 2011 when the party finished fourth and NDP candidate Kevin Barr took 14.4 per cent.

Incumbent Ryan Leef finished second.

“This journey has given me the privilege of letting me hear stories of people’s hopes and worries that we share about the future and I take through stories to my heart,” Atkinson told the standing-room only crown waiting for her.

Atkinson, a Yukon lawyer, laughed at some of the more “surreal” moments rookie candidates have to get used to during the campaign.

She got recognized all the time, she said. That’s not surprising, considering that her face was on giant campaign signs scattered all over the territory.

“I can’t walk 10 feet without someone stopping me, and I think that’s going to be perhaps the most difficult part, when you realize that this is over,” she said.

“People saying, I might have voted for you but I’m voting strategically, and that’s it and that what they chose to do and that’s what you have the results of and that’s fine.”

The sense that potential NDP supporters may have seen a Liberal vote as the best way of ousting Harper was peppered through many conversations on election night.

“People wanted to make sure Harper was done, so they went with that,” Barr said.

But why voters saw the Liberals as a better choice than the NDP was harder to pin down.

“Once it begins to turn like that, it’s hard to change the narrative,” said former Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin.

NDP supporter David Hedmann called Harper “the most despised prime minister in Canadian history, the most divisive.”

“Next to him, Pierre Trudeau was loved by Western Canadians.”

Hedmann credited Liberals with running a good campaign with a good, well-spoken leader who “tells a good story.”

“The history of Canada is Canadians elect a Conservative government and when they get annoyed with them they kick them out and they elect a Liberal government. When they get annoyed with the Liberal government they elect a Tory government,” he said.

“As we say in the NDP, the mice keep electing cats to lead us and it’s time the mice got together and elected a mouse as prime minister. Someone to represent us, that’s one of us. Not people that are not working in our interests.”

Barr, who after losing in 2011 went on to win an MLA seat for the territorial NDP, said he was happy to see an increase in votes for the NDP and an increased turnout overall.

Yukon’s 76 per cent voter turnout was the second highest in the country.

Even though she didn’t get the result she wanted, Atkinson said she won’t rule out running again four years from now.

“I’m a true Yukon girl and I’m not going anywhere. You just never know. I think you can see the momentum that we built and I’m just so proud of that.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at