By Tina Comeau
If you were to sum up the mood at the NDP headquarters as the results were coming in on byelection night, subdued would be a good adjective to start with.
A few minutes before the polls closed the phone rang. “It was a wrong number,” said the person who answered it. The numbers didn’t work in the NDP’s favour any better beyond that.
The first poll numbers that came in placed the NDP and its candidate John Deveau in fourth place. And that’s where they remained when all the votes were tallied. Zach Churchill of the Liberals with 3,986 votes, Charles Crosby of the PC party with 2,628 votes and independent candidate Belle Hatfield with 673 votes, were first, second and third respectively.
Deveau ended up with 513 votes, according to the results coming out of the returning office in Yarmouth on byelection night. The candidates from the Green and Atlantica parties were a distant fifth and sixth.
Asked afterwards if he thought the lingering anger and resentment over the NDP government’s decision not to fund the Cat ferry – which has resulted in no ferry service in Yarmouth this summer – played a factor in the night’s results, Deveau said it was part of the message that the voters delivered.
“We knew from the beginning that it was going to be difficult,” he said. “The people of Yarmouth have basically sent a message to the government that there is a lot of work that needs to be done down here. They said it loud and clear and I respect that.”
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Still, even Deveau didn’t expect the end result, considering he was running for a party that holds a majority government in Nova Scotia.
“I didn’t think it would be as bad a vote as it was, but again, the people have spoken and the government needs to listen.”
Throughout the campaign Deveau's message had been consistent: Yarmouth needs to have an MLA at the government table where the decisions are made. It appears that message never resonated with the voters, and some felt it smacked of old-time politics. Others thought it delivered the wrong message because what if the NDP didn't pick up the seat? What would happen to Yarmouth then?
The NDP lost a lot of ground from a year earlier when, during the June 2009 provincial election, they had 1,696 votes to place second behind PC incumbent Richard Hurlburt.
This time around the mood never once came close to being celebratory at the NDP headquarters. There was the odd time when someone pointed out as some of the individual poll results came in, “Well, at least we beat Belle,” although she still ended the evening with 160 more votes than Deveau.
During the evening as the results were coming in, people cracked jokes to lighten the mood, but most of the time it was downright quiet with no one saying anything. As people walked through the doors with their results from the polling stations, their expressions told the story – the news was not good.
As the polls were closing earlier in the evening, Deveau had stated he didn’t know what to expect from the vote. In 1998, when he won the Yarmouth seat, he said they were confident before the votes were counted that they had it.
In the next election a year later, they thought they could hang on but lost by 62 votes to Hurlburt.
“Tonight I have no idea,” he said.
Eventually when the first poll results came in, and Deveau only had seven votes, he murmured, “That’s a slap.”
Still, at the end of the night Deveau said he had no regrets, even though this was the second election where Yarmouth could have put an NDP member at the table of a majority government but chose not to.
“I think that we ran an outstanding campaign, we stuck on message, we worked very hard. There’s nothing from our perspective, as a campaign team, that I would change,” said Deveau. “Yarmouth has decided in this byelection to be represented by a Liberal MLA who I feel is going to be very committed to ensuring that Yarmouth is returned to the prosperity it once had. That begins with getting a sustainable ferry for the area.
“We’re committed to working with all stakeholders, even though we lost tonight,” he said of the NDP government, adding then on a personal note, “Unfortunately I didn’t win, but congratulations to the winner.”