Liberal candidates swept all three territories Oct. 19, upsetting longtime incumbents and helping return the Trudeaus to 24 Sussex Drive with a majority government.
Michael McLeod, brother of outgoing NWT Premier Bob McLeod, snatched the Northwest Territories from three-term incumbent New Democrat Dennis Bevington and Hunter Tootoo ousted Conservative cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq in what was an exciting three-way race for much of the night in Nunavut.
Larry Bagnell returned Yukon to the big red tent after four years of Conservative MP Ryan Leef, who made headlines early in the epic 78-day campaign by staking out an election sign and placing a woman who was defacing it under citizen’s arrest.
McLeod said before delivering his acceptance speech in Yellowknife his team worked “long and hard” to take what until last year was called the Western Arctic.
“Every day the campaign was on we put in long hours, knocked on a lot of doors,” he said. “The team was working full-tilt. We took each community very seriously.”
McLeod said he heard about jobs, housing and cost of living while out on the hustings.
“That goes right from Yellowknife, the biggest community in our North, right down to the smallest one.”
He added a Liberal government would help by creating jobs for young people and skilled trades workers with infrastructure projects including housing, highways and airports, increasing the Northern Residents’ Deduction and easing the tax burden on the middle class.
The MP-elect said his three terms as an NWT MLA will help him improve relations between the federal government and Aboriginal, municipal and territorial governments.
“I’ve already been getting calls from incumbent ministers and MLAs and new candidates that want to start putting a priority on issues so we have a more focused agenda,” he said.
He added the “Aboriginal agenda” is very important to the Liberal Party, noting the campaign pledge to interact with Aboriginal leadership on a nation-to-nation basis. Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau echoed the commitment in his acceptance speech.
“I’ve been in contact with virtually all of the Aboriginal governments,” McLeod said. “The Dehcho want to move ahead with their land claims, we’ve heard very loud and clear from the Akaitcho that they want to settle land claims. They want to be able to deal with issues affecting their membership other than just (taking part in) negotiation. They’ve been at the table for so long, they want to get it resolved but we need to have (all three) governments at the table to have that commitment and make it a priority.”
McLeod said he wants to be “in the mix” as roles are handed out in Ottawa and when asked if that means a seat in cabinet, he replied he’d love to be at the table but wants to “be doing something that will help (the NWT) move forward.”
Bevington conceded to McLeod in person and said Tuesday morning New Democrat MPs would work to make sure the change the Liberals promised takes place.
‘Sunny ways, my friends,’ Trudeau beams after election win
“I think my first reaction is we’re all happy to see the backside of Stephen Harper,” Bevington said. “The Liberals had a good candidate and a winning campaign nationally, one that kept growing all the way through. We didn’t achieve that. We declined throughout this campaign nationally.”
Bevington looks forward to spending more time with his seven grandchildren, and in his hometown of Fort Smith, which he considers “one of the finest places to live in the world.”
The Conservative Party announced Harper would step down as leader before he made his concession speech in Calgary Heritage. The man who helped unite the right and finally let the West in said it was an unbelievable honour to serve as prime minister and that his party accepts “without hesitation” that Canadians have elected a Liberal government.
“We gave everything we had to give and we have no regrets whatsoever,” he said. “Friends, how could we? We remain citizens of the best country on Earth.”
The Liberal majority is comprised of 184 seats, so many that for the first time since the super-majorities of the Jean Chrétien era, there will be government MPs sitting on the Opposition side of the House of Commons. The “red tide,” as it quickly became known, started with a sweep of the Maritimes and continued with breakthroughs in Quebec and Ontario, including dominance in riding-rich Montreal and kingmaker Toronto, where even the ridings of late NDP leader Jack Layton and that of his widow, NDP candidate Olivia Chow, elected Grits.
The Tories maintained a base of support in Alberta that stretched through southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba and reached into southwestern Ontario, a Conservative stronghold outside major cities like London, where two ministers of state were defeated, and, surprisingly to many pundits, into mainland British Columbia, where they took 10 seats.
Notably, the Liberals took two seats each in Edmonton and Calgary, where a riding has not gone red since the Trudeau-mania days of 1968. The New Democrats saw their brief time atop the polls in late summer crumble as autumn set in, falling from 103 to just 44 seats, their base in Quebec eviscerated.
In Papineau, Trudeau said Canadians had chosen real change. He invoked prime minister Wilfrid Laurier by name, but not his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
“Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways,” Trudeau said. “This, my friends, is what positive politics can do.”
He pledged to work with the Conservative Party, which becomes Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition for the first time since 2006.
“Conservatives are not our enemies, they are our neighbours.”