Close race in Northern Manitoba leaves Ashton reluctant to declare victory

National broadcasters were calling the Liberals as the next government of Canada by the time polls closed in Manitoba around 8:30 p.m. on election day Oct. 19 but in the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding the incumbent MP was still not confident enough to declare her victory by five hours later.

A cheer arose from the dozen or so volunteers who were in Thompson’s Royal Canadian Legion when CTV declared the NDP’s Niki Ashton the winner of the riding at about 10 minutes to midnight but it was after 1 a.m, when the candidate herself showed up, and she wasn’t ready to unequivocally declare victory.

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“The counts still coming in, the numbers are still coming in and I can’t declare anything,” said Ashton to the remaining attendees of her post-campaign party, which had the subdued air of a hospital waiting room with occupants aware of the possibility of grim news arriving since early in the evening when it became clear that no only was the NDP not about to become the next national government but that it had finished a distant third behind the majority-winning Liberals and the incumbent conservatives, with prime minister-elect Justin Trudeau’s party siphoning support from both the right and left wing of the political spectrum.

“I do want to say I’m very honoured by the support that’s come through already,” said Ashton. “I’m very proud of our NDP team and the positive, progressive vision we put forward here in Northern Manitoba. We’re not ready to say it is what it is. The baseball analogy I guess is it ain’t over ‘til it’s over as Yogi Berra would say.”

The NDP candidate’s reluctance to declare victory was a result of a very close race that saw Liberal challenger Rebecca Chartrand within as few as 100 votes at times throughout the night at poll results came in and because there were at least 17 polls including some from areas with large enough populations to substantially swing the votes yet to report.

“I think the race was close, and one of our shortfalls was our financial situation,” said Chartrand. “We had an all-volunteer team, and that really says a lot as well, because we're all up against an incumbent who has support from four or five MLAs that also fit within Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, so you're up against 20 years of their network, but I think we did fantastic, and we have so much to celebrate. The MP is going to have to work a lot harder to secure those votes moving forward in future elections, and no longer will people in the Churchill-Keewatinook Askiriding, their vote is no longer going to be taken for granted.”

When CTV declared Ashton elected she was leading with about 8,800 votes to 7,600 for Chartrand. As of 2 a.m. Oct. 20, Ashton led with 14,206 votes to 12,784 for Chartrand and 3,061 for the elusive Conservative candidate Kyle Mirecki. The Green Party’s August Hastmann had garnered 546 votes while the Libertarian Party candidate Zachary Linnick had 252.

Turnout was substantitally up from a little over 40 per cent in 2011, with 30,849 ballots counted already, which represented almost 63 per cent of the 49,036 registered voters in the riding.

“Tonight, we've seen people come out in historic numbers,” said Chartrand. “We've heard anecdotes that people were running out of ballots, that people were lined up out of the doors in some communities. We need to celebrate that.”

“This is one of the biggest ridings in the country, almost 500,000 square kilometres of ground to cover, from farmland to tundra, from the Manitoba great lakes to our inland sea at Churchill and so because it’s so big and because there’s numerous polls still coming in we’re not ready to make the call but to al of our people out there, thanks very much,” said Ashton’s campaign manager Blair Hudson. “Thanks for the hard work.”

“I want to thank the people of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski for showing us their support, for all of their work in this campaign and to all the volunteers who are here tonight as well,” Ashton concluded.

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