Red no more: Liberal rule ends in Vaughan

30 Nov
Tony Genco

Tony Genco addresses supporters at his election night party.

By Joshua Freeman

Two decades of Liberal rule came to an end in Vaughan tonight as voters handed over the riding to Conservative candidate Julian Fantino in a cliff-hanger by-election.

With all polls reporting, Elections Canada’s website showed Fantino with 49.1 percent of the vote, while Liberal Tony Genco, the former CEO of Downsview Park, came in at 46.1 percent.

Although the Conservatives won in the end, the result had been unclear throughout the evening, with neither party officially conceding or declaring victory until after 1 am.

The polls were so close in fact, that Genco has still not yet officially conceded the loss.  He appeared only briefly at his campaign party. Arriving close to 11 pm, Genco spent 40 minutes behind closed doors with his team before speaking briefly to the waiting crowd.

Tony Genco

Tony Genco greets supporters

“This race is too close to call,” Genco said. “I’m indebted to all of you for making this a very tight race and we’ll know for sure what the voice of the people will be.”

Visibly upset, he thanked family and supporters before handlers whisked him to a waiting car and told reporters he’d be unavailable for the rest of the night. Liberal staffers explained Genco was run down and had a hoarse throat from campaigning.

That left Liberal MP’s inside to do damage control. While Genco hadn’t officially conceded, they acknowledged a probable loss after he left.

“This is not a Conservative win, this is a Julian Fantino win,” said York West MP, Judy Sgro. “It ended up a popularity contest in this riding… we’ll win this riding back when there’s a general election.”

She pointed out that while some media outlets had predicted a Conservative landslide, Fantino “barely squeaked to a victory.”

Brampton-Springdale MP Ruby Dhalla also tried her best to put a happy face on the loss.

“I think the citizens of Vaughan have really paid tribute to the great work Mr. Fantino did as Police Commissioner,” said Dhalla. She also pointed to low voter turnout as a factor that might have hurt the Liberals. Unofficial results put voter turnout at 32.4 percent of registered voters. That compares to 52.3 percent voter turnout in the 2008 general election. “I’ve worked in by-elections before, but this was very quiet,” Dhalla said.

Despite his early departure, many supporters seemed unaware Genco had left and were surprised to learn he was no longer in the building.

“I think (Liberals) are going to be demoralized by this (loss),” said Mike Zichowski, a Liberal scrutineer. “To lose a big seat like this that’s been Liberal for so many years and now to swing Conservative.” Watching tired volunteers file out the doors, he added he now worries the stage might be set for the Harper Conservatives to pursue a majority government in the next general election.

numbers

The last numbers posted at the Liberals' election night party.

Despite the help of party strategists, PR people and high profile MP’s, such as Justin Trudeau, the Liberals were unable to hold on to the seat occupied for 22 years by Vaughan’s mayor-elect, Maurizio Bevilacqua.

Throughout the campaign, Genco tried to frame the decision for voters as a choice between the ‘Liberal brand’ and the Harper government, rather than a choice between himself and Fantino, a high profile candidate who enjoys strong popular support in the area. But the strategy proved unsuccessful against Fantino’s strong name recognition.

Genco’s future plans were not immediately clear. His campaign manager said he would not comment on the results of the election until every last vote had been counted.

But the bigger question may be what plans Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will make. Having lost a long-standing Liberal riding, he may now face comparisons to former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, whose loss of the Outremont by-election in 2007 signalled the beginning of the end of his leadership.

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