When successful Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal candidate Stephen Fuhr first sat down with the man who would become his campaign manager, Wayne Pierce told him he had a better chance of climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen than beating incumbent Conservative Ron Cannan.
A little over three months later, on Monday night with Pierce by his side, Fuhr made that climb—figuratively— by beating Cannan to become the first Liberal elected here since 1969.
And the first person Fuhr publicly thanked was Pierce.
In this election, Pierce, and his counterparts with the Conservative campaign, Ken Lang, and with the NDP, Maria Tokarchuk, played pivotal roles as not only the behind-the-scenes leaders but also as the chief strategists.
While the candidates were out front, it was the campaign managers who organized the Herculean efforts to try to get them elected, keep the campaigns on course, prepare their candidates and get them to the finish line. No small feat in the longest federal election campaign this country has ever seen at 11 weeks.
“There’s really no secret to it,” said Pierce, a 69-year-old former banker and businessman who managed Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran’s successful civic election campaign last year.
“You need great volunteers, key people to lead (different aspects of the campaign) and rely on them to do their jobs.”
He said he was particularly impressed by the number of young people who not only supported the campaign, but who volunteered to work on it this time around.
For Lang, who has managed three other federal election campaigns in the past, all in the Lower Mainland, the involvement of young people was also a highlight in this campaign.
Unlike the Liberals and NDP who can normally rely on a certain number of young volunteers—particularly students as UBCO has a Young Liberals Club and many politically active arts students gravitate towards the NDP—Cannan’s campaign this time around drew from business and accounting programs at UBCO and Okanagan College.
Lang said all the talk of change likely resonated with young voters this time around and that seemed to account for much of their interest.
But he said the biggest factor in Cannan failing to hold on the seat that he first won in 2006 was likely the redrawing of the riding’s boundary that took an estimated 22,000 people out in Kelowna and placed them in the new Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola riding, which includes West Kelowna on the other side of the lake.
The area, south of Highway 97 (Harvey Avenue), between the lake and Dilworth Drive, was carved out of the Kelowna-Lake Country riding for this election.
While Tokarchuk could not be reached for this article, in this election the local NDP tripled its volunteer base and donations during the campaign, according to candidate Norah Bowman. But it was not enough as Bowman came a distant third to Fuhr and Cannan.
With 72 per cent voter turnout in the riding this time around, voters wanted their voices heard.
For the Liberals, the key campaign strategy was to go after Conservative leader Stephen Harper rather than Cannan or Bowman.
Pierce said he knows Cannan, considers him a friend and a described him as a “quality individual.”
He said from the get-go, he made it clear, he would not lead a campaign that targeted Cannan personally.
“Stephen Harper was our best asset,” he said.
“But if Stephen Harper had to go, (locally) Ron Cannan had to go too.”
For Lang, the strategy was different.
During the campaign, Cannan ran as much on his own record as he did on what his party was offering Canadians.
Publicly, he listed projects that he helped secure federal funding for and promised more of the same. But that failed to register with thousands of voters.
The lack of similar local-focused promises from Fuhr and Bowman frustrated Lang, who admitted the call for change after nearly 10 years of Conservative rule was strong and proved too much in the local race.