NDP Leonard declared Courtenay-Comox winner by nine-vote margin; Benninger not conceding

Nine votes.

It was the margin of victory — for now — for NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard, who topped the Courtenay-Comox polls in Tuesday’s provincial election with 37.15 per cent of the vote, edging Jim Benninger of the Liberals.

Leonard garnered 10,058 votes, Benninger 10,049, Ernie Sellentin of the Green Party 4,907 and Conservative candidate Leah McCulloch 2,061.

“There’s no declaring a win, but man, we have a lot to celebrate,” Leonard said at a post-election party at The Avalanche. “I just got a text from someone saying, ‘Preventing a majority government is a real win.’ Across the province, the NDP has done such a tremendous job tonight. Thank you all so much for all your hard work. Tomorrow is another day, and let’s make it happen.”

At the other end of town, Benninger was not ready to give up the fight.

“No – no conceding,” he said, when Leonard was declared. “Nine votes out of the number of votes cast – I think it’s too early. We have to wait for the process to play out. We have a lot of folks in our Valley that go down south and we caught a lot of them before they left, and they mail-in their ballots, and there’s a lot to count, and with nine votes in the mix I think it’s worth waiting for.”

In fact, a Benninger concession does not even apply.

According to Elections BC, “… if the difference between the first two candidates is less than 1/500 of the total ballots considered, the District Electoral Officer must make an application for a judicial recount.”

The difference between Leonard and Benninger is less than 1/1,000.

The time, date and place of the judicial recount must be determined within the next 72 hours.

The mail-in and absentee votes will be counted May 22-24.

All election results will only become official after those counts are in.

While there aren’t enough mail-in and absentee votes to make a difference in most ridings, the Courtenay-Comox riding is one exception.

Benninger could not stress enough, the importance of the votes yet to be counted.

“These are people that really took the time and effort who took the extra step to find out how to do the mail-in ballot, and so these people on both sides are very dedicated and I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up in another dead heat,” he said.

As for the ruling government, even that race was as close as it gets. Province-wide, the Liberals won 43 seats and the NDP 41.

Leonard a veteran

Leonard is no stranger to the political game. She served three terms on Courtenay council, and was the NDP candidate for Vancouver Island North in the 2011 federal election, where she placed second in voting behind John Duncan of the Conservatives. In 2014, she lost to Gord Johns at the NDP nomination meeting for the newly formed Courtenay-Alberni riding. Johns went on to unseat Duncan as MP in the 2015 federal election.

“It’s just as exciting (as the federal election),” Leonard said. “We know Courtenay-Comox tends to have close races, and we like to keep voters up at night to see what the results will be. The boundaries changed, so it was anybody’s game, really.”

She likened the ebb and flow of Tuesday night to being in labour.

“You’re wanting to be delivered. It comes in waves of feeling really good and wondering what’s going to happen next.”

As for priorities, Leonard said the NDP will be holding its platform forward, trying to ensure a more affordable life for British Columbians.

“And build a better B.C. — like we’ve been promising all along.”

Benninger hopeful

Benninger was happy with the campaign he ran.

“I was confident – we have a great campaign team, we’ve done this before and we know how it works, and we’re just going to let it play out. This is a democracy and we will see where this goes with all of the processes – that includes the mail-in ballots and any other counts that need to be done. It’s too early to tell at this stage, but we will be patient.”

He is still hopeful his patience pays off.

“You know, I think with nine votes in the mix, I think those mail-in votes will make the difference. I’m not sure if we can really say that we have a winner tonight. A couple of weeks out I still think it’s worth waiting for.”

McCulloch proud

McCulloch, who ran for a leaderless party, said she was happy with her campaign.

“It wasn’t about number of votes for me. I ran from the heart on this campaign, and I was hoping people would respond to that. People tend to vote along party lines and I get that… but I had so many amazing comments, I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of people who said, ‘We wish you were our candidate’… it’s heartwarming, because I know I ran an honest campaign.”

When asked whether she plans on staying in the political spotlight, McCulloch said it’s likely, in one capacity or another.

“I’m going to be blunt – I don’t like politics. I (ran) because I believe that B.C. needs something different, and because people are hungry for something different.

“This has been an incredible experience for me. I think I ran an incredible campaign, on peanuts and no party backing. We have done an incredible amount with what little we had. What I have gained from this is incredible knowledge, and incredible resolve, for next time.”

So there will be a next time?

“Probably. I’m not ruling out other things. I’ve spent my life serving people, and I will continue to do so… My position is always one of service, and doing the best for my community.”

Sellentin was unavailable for comment.

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