Election 2015: Waters: Fuhr won by punching above his weight

Historic Liberal win in Kelowna-Lake Country targeted Stephen Harper, not local Tory incumbent.

A few months ago, what happened in Kelowna-Lake Country on Monday night would have been unthinkable—a federal Liberal ousting a long-time Conservative incumbent in what is generally considered a Tory stronghold.

In fact, since 1947, there has only been one Liberal elected here—in 1969 during the height of (Pierre Elliott) Trudeau-mania—and he only lasted one term.

But, riding the red surge that swept across the country election night, political rookie Stephen Fuhr, a retired Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, took aim at three-term Tory incumbent Ron Cannan and shot down his bid for a fourth term.

And he did it by campaigning not against Cannan, but against Conservative leader Stephen Harper.

“Stephen Harper was our best asset,” said Fuhr’s campaign manager Wayne Pierce, the architect of Fuhr’s historic win.

More than any federal election in recent memory, this one was really between three men—Harper, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair—even at the riding level. Early on in the campaign, Green leader Elizabeth May was part of the conversation but seemed to be dropped when it seemed she was happy just to campaign on Vancouver Island in a bid to win more than just her own seat there.

At the local level, Fuhr, Cannan and the NDP’s Norah Bowman, all strong candidates, spent virtually all their time addressing their opponents party leaders rather than each other.

On the national level, Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair slugged it out with television and radio ads slagging each other and making it much more personal than in previous elections.

Harper was cast as the demon control freak, doing what he personally wanted with the country and no one in his own party would stand up to him. Trudeau was cast as “just not ready” to be prime minister and Mulcair was derided as a “career” politician who could not look after money.

And the strategies seemed to work—to a degree. All three leaders led in the polls at various times during the campaign and on election night, CBC broadcast the results of a poll that said 65 per cent of voters voted Monday the way they did because they liked the party they voted for, while 35 per cent voted the way they did because they did not like one of the other party leaders.

But now, in Kelowna-Lake Country, the bogey man that was Stephen Harper is gone. The MP’s job is Fuhr’s and it will be up to him to temper his ambition to rise higher in the party with his responsibility to represent and work for his constituents.

A former cabinet minister in the provincial NDP government of Mike Harcourt once told me—cynically I thought at the time—a politician gets elected to get re-elected.

For Fuhr, who has yet to be sworn in as an MP, the job of getting re-elected has already started, whether he knows it or not.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.