B.C. Liberal Marc Dalton gets a hug from a supporter at his campaign office on election night.

‘I knew it was going to be close’

Voters return B.C. Liberal Marc Dalton to represent Maple Ridge-Mission in Victoria

The polls that forecast a defeat for the B.C. Liberals had little effect on Marc Dalton’s spirit.

As the gap between his party and the New Democrats widened to 20 points, the incumbent MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission refused to lose hope.

“Even in the tougher times, we knew we were close,” Dalton after winning a second term in Victoria.

Dalton took 46 per cent of the popular vote in the riding, with preliminary results showing he won 9,408 votes – 1,376 more votes than his closest rival, New Democrat Mike Bocking.

It was a stark difference from 2009, when Dalton went to bed believing he had lost the election, but woke up to find he had won – by 68 votes.

“I’ve been thinking about this campaign for the past four years,” said Dalton. “All along I’ve known it was going to be very close.”

Being targeted during the anti-Harmonized Sales Tax campaign toughened Dalton, but also allowed him to connect with constituents.

“You learn to live with things, with the criticism, and you understand there are always going to be challenges,” says Dalton.

“I am thankful that people are forgiving because we ended up with stronger numbers than last time.”

Dalton’s campaign began months before the writ dropped. He’s been door-knocking since January, hitting the road almost every evening, in all kinds of weather.

“I love the rain,” says Dalton, because the gloomy weather makes people stay at home.

“It’s like being a teacher in June, when there’s bad weather the kids are not thinking about vacation.”

This time around, however, his campaign attracted more volunteers, more that 150 by Tuesday.

He stayed on message, touting the B.C. Liberal mantra: economy and jobs.

“I think this was an important election for B.C.’s prosperity.”

Key pieces of the Liberal platform included a promise to freeze personal income tax rates for the next five years and cut small-business taxes by 40 per cent.

The platform’s centerpiece was debt reduction, with a commitment to dedicate half of future surpluses to paying off the $60 billion, while beefing up balanced budget legislation with penalties for ministers who don’t meet their targets.

Dalton made a clear pitch for the platform on the campaign trail, telling voters that without a strong economy, the government could not invest in health care or education.

“As our financial resources increase, we are able to do more,” said Dalton. “That’s why the economy is important.”

Three visits to the two local ridings by premier Christy Clark were a welcome boost. One of Clark’s most steadfast supporters, Dalton appreciated the premier’s unfailing optimism, which never flattered even during the most dismal times.

Sometimes he wondered: “Is this for real?”

“She genuinely was very inspirational. Just that energy she put in. She never cracked in the past two years.”

•••

An hour before the polls closed, the volunteers at Bocking’s office were confident he would win.

The sign on their door directed supporters to a “victory” party at St. George’s Anglican Church.

Everything – including opinion polls and people on the street – signalled the New Democrats would form government.

“Our indications were that we were going to do well,” said Bocking, a journalist and currently president of the Media Union of B.C., Local 2000.

The end results were a complete surprise. Bocking, who missed being elected in 2009 by 68 votes, took 8,032 of 20,169 votes cast in Maple Ridge-Mission on Tuesday.

“The loss will be the subject of a lot of conversations and examination of the entrails,” he says.

“We have to figure out whether optimistic and positive campaigns really work.”

Bocking can’t pinpoint what went wrong with the campaign locally, but believes both Maple Ridge-Mission and neighbouring Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows were influenced by the provincial mood.

“You can’t look at the riding results in isolation. The fact is, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, according to what we were hearing, were going to be overwhelmingly New Democrat, and something happened.”

The B.C. NDP plans to dissect the campaign to figure out what happened at the ballot box. Bocking doesn’t want to second guess what happened during the campaign because it’s too early.

NDP leader Adrian Dix visited Maple Ridge once during the campaign, on Sunday May 5, when he stopped at Kingfisher’s pub to watch hockey and grab dinner.

Bocking says because there were early indications of strong support in Metro Vancouver, Dix decided to focus on the Interior and B.C.’s north.

Bocking’s campaign this year had more supporters, more volunteers and more financial contributions than before.

“This was the best campaign that we’ve ever run,” said Bocking, who ran federally against Conservative MP Randy Kamp in 2004, 2006 and 2008, losing each time.

“There was something else at work here and we need to figure out what that was.”

In addition to traditional campaign strategies such as door knocking, Bocking beefed up his presence on social media this year, even though he “hates” Twitter.

“I think Twitter is ridiculous,” he says with a laugh.

“It is the single most effective way to dumb down the discussion.”

He also had lots of help from NDP headquarters, but wishes his party was more aggressive at holding the B.C. Liberals to account.

“For some inexplicable reason, we gave Christy Clark a free pass. While they were pounding away at the NDP about the 1990s, we didn’t have much to say about them in the past 12 years, and that’s a head-scratcher for me,” said Bocking, who tried to highlight the government’s record in his campaign.

“When somebody is using a bazooka against you, you don’t use a pillow. It’s not a pillow fight.”

Tuesday’s campaign was the fifth and final time Bocking ran for office.

He returns to his job as a union president next week.

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