Gwen O’Mahony is the first-ever NDP MLA elected in Chilliwack-Hope, an area long-considered a bastion of conservatism.
The question now is how does O’Mahony translate her byelection victory into a win in the upcoming provincial election just over a year away on May 14, 2013?
“I have to prove myself over this next year,” she agreed in a post-byelection interview.
But since the BC Liberals are still the governing party, what influence will she have?
For starters, O’Mahony said she intends to be a “strong voice” in Victoria standing up for all the riding’s residents, not just those who voted for her.
“I ran as an NDP candidate but I’m the MLA for everyone, for the people who didn’t vote for me and for those who didn’t vote at all,” she said.
Secondly, O’Mahony said she intends to continue the community activism that played a large part in her history-making victory.
Ever since the last provincial election in 2009, O’Mahony has been present at nearly every community meeting on a wide range of issues, from the lack of a dialysis clinic in Chilliwack to gravel mines in residential areas to possible incineration of garbage by Metro Vancouver.
Her job now as an MLA “is just an extension of what I’ve already been doing,” she said.
“I have to be the MLA that is present and shows up when a truck goes over in a creek,” she said, referring to the November, 2010 crash that sent two semi-trucks over the Spuzzum Creek Bridge, spilling diesel into the Fraser River tributary and killing one of the drivers.
For almost a year-and-a-half — when the riding was held by BC Liberal MLA Barry Penner — debris from the accident remained in and around the creek. One semi- was left wedged on the cliff above the creek that served as a swimming area for the Spuzzum First Nation.
These “pockets” of unhappy voters, though small, added up on election night.
O’Mahony won 41 per cent of the total byelection vote last Thursday, less than the 53 per cent won by Penner in the 2009 election, but her share had grown from 33 per cent in 2009.
BC Liberal Laurie Throness took just over 31 per cent of the byelection vote and BC Conservative John Martin took just over 25 per cent.
Clearly, the split in the conservative vote helped the NDP along to victory, but local party official Al Ens said in terms of real politick it just doesn’t matter.
“He who gets the most votes wins,” he said, and the NDP simply led a “better-run” campaign with more volunteers who got more of their supporters to the voting booths.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to hard work,” she said. “It really does.”
She said over 200 NDP volunteers were working byelection night, phoning supporters, driving them to voting booths, scrutinizing the vote.
“It was a tremendous effort,” she said, a show of commitment by so many for a “long-shot” candidate like herself.
Egged along, perhaps, with the prevailing wisdom that O’Mahony could not possibly win Chilliwack-Hope.
“That really got my Irish going,” she said.