Blair Wilson got only part of his wish Monday night.
The telegenic young Liberal, who came within striking distance of winning West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country two years ago, finally took the riding over Conservative John Weston.
But instead of going to Ottawa as part of the government, he's headed for the opposition benches instead.
Behind his smiling face and brave words, he's got to be feeling like a guy who thought he won a trip to Rome and found out it was Rome, New York.
Despite the disappointment at his party's showing, Wilson can take some pride in being one of the few ridings in the entire country to buck the national trend and switch from Conservative to Liberal.
Much of the credit for that switch can go right to Wilson himself, who effectively ran a two-year campaign since coming so close to unseating incumbent John Reynolds in the 2004 election that Peter Mansbridge declared him elected (note how CBC stayed silent on Wilson until all the polls were in this time). Wilson has stayed high-profile, sharing the limelight with cabinet ministers and even the Prime Minister at appearances throughout the riding. By the time the election rolled around in December, Wilson practically had the advantage an incumbent candidate usually has, despite being the losing candidate last time around.Surprisingly for this political junkie, his work and his obvious appeal to voters of all stripes was more than enough to counter the baggage he carried as a Paul Martin Liberal.
Not that it was all Wilson's doing. Reynolds' own departure, though not unexpected, gave Wilson the opportunity to gain that incumbent's advantage. And the absence of NDP candidate Nicholas Simons, who ran a very strong campaign in 2004 on the Sunshine Coast and Powell River before turning to provincial politics and winning a seat in Victoria last spring, appears to have caused a collapse in the NDP vote in the riding which clearly benefited Wilson over Weston.
It's clear the Conservative slide in B.C., the only part of Canada where the party lost votes and seats, had a trickle-down effect on this riding as well. Whether that was the Liberal attack ads portraying Stephen Harper as too scary to govern or Harper's own misstep late in the campaign where he said that the courts and civil service would hold him back, we'll never know.The big question now is how Wilson will function from the opposition benches. He'll be free of the baggage of a controversial and unpopular administration - but it's difficult to think of Wilson as a "Rat Pack" style politician, attacking the government on every turn.
If he can keep the message positive as he has thus far and helps his party focus on the rebuilding, he'll do just fine - in fact, he'll be very well-positioned in the long term.
Consider this scenario: Paul Martin has left his party in a surprisingly strong position considering the shambles of a campaign it ran, with more than 100 MPs and, when combined with the NDP, more votes than the government. And in stepping away from the Liberal leadership right away, he gives his party maximum time to regenerate itself.
Once the honeymoon ends and things get tough for Stephen Harper, as they certainly will, the next Liberal leader, whoever he or she will be, will benefit from a regrouped and re-energized party, in a position to make some noise and score some points from the opposition benches - and start looking like a government again. And Wilson, as one of the bright young stars of that resurgent party, is poised to reap some benefits if they can turn it around.
Sound unlikely? Maybe - but two years ago "Prime Minister Stephen Harper" sounded like something nobody would ever say, too.
Blair Wilson might feel like he's won a hollow victory right now, but he may find out later that he won at just the right time.Call it Paul Martin's parting gift.