By Tina Comeau
In a room at the Clare Golf and Country Club where Liberals had hoped for a celebration on election night, not only weren’t the celebratory thundersticks inflated, they weren’t even taken out of their plastic packaging.
Robert Thibault, who had been successful in winning the West Nova riding in three consecutive elections – in 2000, 2004 and 2006 – didn’t come close to winning the seat.
For a second consecutive election the win went to Conservative candidate Greg Kerr. While Kerr had won by about 1,600 over Thibault in the last election, this time he had 4,494 more votes than Thibault.
The difference in votes did surprise Thibault, who said with the reception he had been getting on the campaign trail he expected it to be a tighter race.
“I never had the feeling that I was a shoo in to win . . . but the reception was very good, a lot better than last time,” Thibault said. “I kept telling my friends, this is within 1,000 votes, one way or the other, because it’s always a tight riding.”
But then the NDP surge in this federal election came about. Thibault believes that had a lot to do with the outcome of the West Nova vote.
“You take issues like the ferry or the whole Liberal platform. I think it was a well accepted platform,” he said. “But when we fell to third place in the polls, our ability to deliver that message was nil.”
Especially, he said, if in the minds of voters the Liberals might not even be the official opposition.
“An intelligent voter could say I like what Robert is saying better than what Greg is saying, but Greg is going to be on the government side and he could be able to deliver something, maybe the ferry, where Robert can’t deliver anything,” Thibault said.
Thibault did indicate he was interested in seeing how the advance polls voting had shaped up, since that occurred before much of the media reports and polls about the NDP surge. He expected those advance polls results to have put him and Kerr in a tighter race. And he was right. The advance polls result had given Kerr 2,264 votes and Thibault 2,191 votes, a difference of just 73 votes.
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Thibault, meanwhile, who has put his name on the ballot in the last five federal elections, said he won’t be reoffering federally again.
“It’s always more fun to win, but it’s a game you play. You put your name forward and ask the electorate for a decision. I accepted it when I won, I’ve got to accept it when I lose,” he said, then adding with a laugh, “I’m done with a positive record of three and two.”
But on a more serious note, he said he has to be realistic.
“I thought I had a shot at the seat, but I can’t ask the volunteers to do it for me one more time, they’ve already done it for me five times.”
Would he run provincially?
Thibault said in politics you never say never. But he also said Clare has a great MLA in Wayne Gaudet who, in his words, is doing a fantastic job.
Instead the role Thibault would like to play in his party is as that of a builder. The Liberals finished a disappointing third in this election, and their leader, Michael Ignatieff, did not win his seat.
What Thibault would like to help do in the years ahead is rebuild the party to get young people more involved in the political process. He said people who don’t vote when they’re 25 also won’t vote when they’re 35 or 45.
“Also what I’d like to see disappear off the face of this planet is the negative ads because what it does is it suppresses the vote. It makes people not vote and not want to participate,” he said. “We’ve got to motivate people to participate. It’s very important.”
Meanwhile, although disappointed by the outcome of his own race, Thibault still had his trademark sense of humour on election night.
“I won the first two polls. If only the satellites could have gone down then,” he said laughing.