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ELECTION 2004: Liberals win Squamish polls

There's only one winner in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast after Monday's federal election - but local organizers from three different parties are claiming victories.

There's only one winner in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast after Monday's federal election - but local organizers from three different parties are claiming victories.

While Conservative incumbent John Reynolds was returned to Ottawa, it was Liberal candidate Blair Wilson who topped the Squamish polls, with NDP candidate Nicholas Simons placing a surprising second.

Theodora Carroll, Wilson's Squamish campaign co-ordinator, cites her candidate's effort in the Sea to Sky corridor in winning the local polls.

"I think he was a good, new fresh candidate," she said Tuesday (June 29). "I think he made a tremendous amount of effort to get to know people, not just in Squamish but throughout the riding."

Wilson spent between a day and a half and two days a week in Squamish for a total of about 10 days of local campaigning, including half-days spent in Whistler.

"Blair said he was determined he was going to meet 20,000 people in the riding, which is shaking a lot of hands," Carroll said.

Among his local appearances were the Squamish Town Centre Association AGM, the Rotary Club of Squamish, the Squamish Sikh Temple and visits with the Squamish Nation - and plenty of morning stops at Tim Hortons to hit the commuter crowd.

"We kept scheduling different things for him, which I think contributed to a lot of people getting to know him," said Carroll.

She also credited her campaign team of about 60 local volunteers, with an age range from 19 to 82 years, and said she hopes to keep the local campaign infrastructure together for the next election, which could happen anytime in the next two years.

Election night itself was a rollercoaster for the local staff, who gathered at the Shady Tree to watch the results.

"There were very mixed feelings," Carroll said. "People got really excited, and when it started turning around people got really down.

While the local victory was heartening, the overall result wasn't.

"One of the big problems we saw from the beginning was a split vote with the NDP, not on the Sunshine Coast, but here and perhaps Powell River, and we anticipated that Reynolds might win based on that," she said. "People were not necessarily voting strategically.

"Mr. Simons and Ms. Goldsmith [the Green Party candidate] were very strong candidates, and that's not to detract from Blair."

Simons' local campaign co-ordinator, Sandy Bauer, was pleasantly surprised with her candidate's numbers - especially considering that the campaign concentrated on Simons' home base in the Sunshine Coast.

But Bauer, who ran for the NDP herself in 1993, thinks that the Liberals' strategy of scaring voters away from voting Conservative may have kept them from being even higher.

"I think what happened in Squamish and possibly in other areas, the Liberal strategy worked, that the Conservatives are scary - and I can't disagree with that if you look at the past things that Harper has written or said, as well as Reynolds and other candidates," she said.

"I think it's unfortunate, because they're afraid of wasting their votesthey wasted them anyway.She also admitted that Green candidate Andrea Goldsmith pulled some votes away locally.

"I think some of them are [NDP] votes, mistakenly," she said. "My biggest concern is that people don't really recognize the Green Partythey'll align the Green party with the left or the NDP, but if you study their economic platform, it matches the Conservative platform."

Meanwhile, Paul Lalli's candidate won - but had his worst-ever showing in Squamish in the process.

The former municipal councillor and mayoral candidate who ran Conservative John Reynolds' Squamish campaign was particularly disappointed in the electoral turnout.

"From a Squamish perspective it wasn't as good a turnout as we expected, primarily because it was summer and the turnout was bad - nationally, it was the lowest turnout ever," Lalli said.

"In terms of the response, I think it was a really close three-way race in Squamish and my hat's off to the other two candidates. I think they did an exceptional job of campaigning.

"If I had to name a Most Improved Player, I would have to say Nicholas Simons."

Lalli feels the backlash against the provincial Liberals may have bolstered the NDP vote in Squamish as well. The media's "misconception" of Conservative leader Stephen Harper also helped drive the late swing in the polls from a dead heat to favouring the Liberals, he says.

"One of the challenges we had in the Conservative party is a Liberal-friendly national media and if you look in the polls, we were going to have a minority government and then they turned it on. It did have an impact in Squamish. I had friends coming up to me and saying 'I don't know if I can support Stephen Harper', and I said to them 'Well, you're supporting John Reynolds'.

"What I did see happen in Squamish is the right-win vote split between us and the Liberals, and those who were possibly going to vote NDP but didn't want Stephen Harper to get in went towards the Liberals.

Reynolds' work on the national campaign was not a factor, Lalli claims, pointing out that Reynolds still spent four days in Squamish on the campaign.

"John's busy. We have the largest riding in Canada, so we did our best. The thing with John too is John has been working hard for his constituents here as well as throughout the riding."

Lalli, spent election night scrutineering, then went to Reynolds' campaign office in downtown Squamish to watch the results roll in.

"It was a nail biter. This has got to be the most exciting election I've ever been involved in. This was an emotional roller coaster. It was probably the most exciting riding to watch in the country. I'm honoured and was very excited to be a part of it. It was like the ninth inning with two outs and one batter left to go, and we hit a home run."

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