With the resignation of long time Victoria NDP MP Denise Savoie earlier this year, the riding of Victoria became a hotly contested battleground. Not so much between the major parties, as the NDP look almost certain to hold the seat, but within the NDP, as the battle for the nomination heated up in recent months.
In one of the most well attended nomination meetings I have ever seen earlier today, University of Victoria professor Murray Rankin sailed by his closest challenger, former provincial finance and health minister Elizabeth Cull, to score a landslide first ballot victory.
With 557 eligible voters in attendance, and roughly another fifty observers and media in the overflowing room, Rankin took 352 votes on the first ballot. Cull came in second with 96, while former Victoria school board trustee Charley Beresford chalked up 51 to edge out first term Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt, who took 36 votes, for third place.
The result was a shocker, as everyone I spoke to, in all camps, expected a close race between Rankin and Cull, which would spill over into multiple ballots. As we awaited first ballot results I asked Rankin if he was feeling confident. He didn’t miss a beat as he blurted out a forceful no. Turned out he had little reason for concern.
A Cull supporter I spoke to told me that though the result was not as close as he expected, losing wasn’t much of a surprise. “From the beginning there was an incredible energy behind Rankin’s campaign, I remember going into a Cull meeting near the beginning of the campaign and saying, ‘alright folks, we need to step it up, because Murray has all the momentum right now’.”
Many cited Rankin’s speech as a significant factor in turning what was expected to be a close race into a rout. While Cull delivered a flat, uninspired speech to the packed hall, Rankin swung for the fences with a fiery barn-burner of a speech which drew almost half the crowd to their feet.
A forceful, eloquent orator, he quoted J.S. Woodsworth (always worth bonus points with me) explaining the philosophy of social democracy thus: “what we wish for ourselves, we wish for others” and drew the largest ovation of the day as he exclaimed “We do not want Canada to become the energy Walmart of the world!”
It should also be noted that although he ended up fourth, Isitt made a strong speech, which was laden with references to the 99% and the activist history of the NDP. For my money, he won the best quote of the afternoon award, with this gem from Agnes McPhail: “Patriotism is not dying for ones country, it is living for ones country, and for humanity.”
In victory, Rankin was nothing if not gracious, as he led off his victory speech with touching, personal tributes to each of his bested opponents. From there he moved on to skewer the target of so many zingers on this day, Stephen Harper.
“We have to stop this man. We have to change the channel!” he said, to raucous applause. “I want this by-election to be the beginning of an orange wave which starts at the Pacific Ocean and just keeps on going!”
I tagged along to the victory party at a charming Victoria pub called the Penny Farthing, where I was able to sit down with Rankin, and briefly discuss his stunning victory, and his plans for the future.
His focus now is naturally enough on the upcoming by-election, which he expects Harper to bundle with two or three other looming by-elections, and call for late November or early December. He is quick to note that that’s just speculation on his part, and of course, “Harper doesn’t consult me on these decisions!”
If he did, the man who professed his newfound love for campaigning would have a simple message for him: “Get on with it!”
I ask what his priorities will be if he is elected. The name of the Enbridge pipeline rolls off his tongue before I finish asking the question. He explains that B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix brought him on board as a senior legal advisor on the question of how a provincial government can legally block a federal pipeline from passing through its territory.
“It’s so symptomatic of what’s wrong with Harper. He wants to jam this pipeline through B.C. without consultation, without environmental assessments, and if I’m elected I’ll go to Ottawa and take the fight to Stephen Harper.”
He goes on to rhyme off a long list of local priorities he will fight for if elected, including opposing a mega-yacht mooring which the B.C. government is pushing through without consultation.
“You could say that I’m all about classic NDP meat and potatoes issues, even though I’m a vegetarian!” He mentions childcare and medicare before moving on to what is clearly a preoccupation he shares with late NDP leader Jack Layton, homelessness.
“I’m appalled at the homelessness in our city. One month ago a man died in a fire, because he had no place to go. Fighting homelessness will be a priority for me.”
“Christy Clark is someone I believe is committed to allowing private health clinics. I want her to know that if B.C. breaches the Canada Health Act, I will stand up and fight for it. I will be her worst nightmare!”
Finally, he tells me that he feels profoundly humbled by the mandate he’s been given, and is committed to living up to the legacy of outgoing MP Denise Savoie, whom he lavishes with praise.
He stresses his perfect French, and his undergraduate degree from the University of Montreal, as he explains that he is committed to reaching out to Quebec, and to the fifty-eight NDP MPs who now hail from there.