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Liberals unseat Fletcher from long-held Tory riding

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/10/2015 (1370 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As a few hundred of his supporters watched the election results roll in, Doug Eyolfson was blissfully unaware nine floors above that he was pulling off his own David vs. Goliath moment.

Sitting in a room in the Holiday Inn West with his wife, Sowmya Dakshinamurti, the emergency room doctor had no idea about the euphoria building in the ballroom over his defeat of incumbent Conservative Steven Fletcher in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, widely considered one of the safest Conservative seats in Manitoba, if not the country.

The television in the room didn’t work.

“We’re only getting one channel. All we could get was The Big Bang Theory and movie previews,” he said.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/10/2015 (1370 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As a few hundred of his supporters watched the election results roll in, Doug Eyolfson was blissfully unaware nine floors above that he was pulling off his own David vs. Goliath moment.

Sitting in a room in the Holiday Inn West with his wife, Sowmya Dakshinamurti, the emergency room doctor had no idea about the euphoria building in the ballroom over his defeat of incumbent Conservative Steven Fletcher in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, widely considered one of the safest Conservative seats in Manitoba, if not the country.

The television in the room didn’t work.

"We’re only getting one channel. All we could get was The Big Bang Theory and movie previews," he said.

"I was going to know soon enough. It wasn’t going to change anything until I get the final result."

When told by a reporter he had been declared elected, he managed a quick smile — while his wife grabbed his arm and buried her head in his shoulder — and said, "Thank you. It feels good."

After taking a few minutes to digest the news, the couple strode into the ballroom to a standing ovation and chants of "Doug! Doug! Doug!"

Liberal supporters Barb King (left), Margaret Semple, and Jeannette Metcalfe a celebrate Doug Eyolfson's win at a Holiday Inn in Winnipeg on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Liberal supporters Barb King (left), Margaret Semple, and Jeannette Metcalfe a celebrate Doug Eyolfson's win at a Holiday Inn in Winnipeg on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015.

"What have I done?" he said, to uproarious laughter.

After thanking his team and Fletcher, he told his supporters, "I promise you, I will make myself worthy of your trust."

Eyolfson said he had a good feeling the Liberals were on the cusp of something special when he introduced Justin Trudeau at his Winnipeg rally on the weekend.

"He is very popular. He resonates with a lot of people. I knew that was going to help my chances," he said.

He recalled meeting his leader’s father, Pierre, when he was just seven years old in 1970. His own father, who passed away three years ago after a distinguished career with the RCMP, had taken him to a Canada Day event in Selkirk where the prime minister was appearing. Standing at the front of the ropes, he whispered in his son’s ear, "Go shake his hand."

"I ducked under the ropes and ran up to him and he looked down at me and said, ‘Hello,’ and shook my hand," he said.

"My wife told me, ‘The ghost of your dad has been smiling at you this whole campaign.’ I wonder who else in this campaign can make the same claim?"

The first order of business, however, is taking his wife out on a date night. When asked what she wanted to do, Dakshinamurti said, "We’ll figure something out tomorrow. We’ll actually go for dinner."

Doug Eyolfson, Liberal Party candidate for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley.

SUPPLIED PHOTO

Doug Eyolfson, Liberal Party candidate for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley.

In one of the major upsets of the night, Conservative Steven Fletcher lost the riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley that he’s held since 2004.

He was beat by rookie politician and emergency room doctor Doug Eyolfson as part of a Liberal wave that swept the country.

"We ran a very good campaign," Fletcher said when he arrived at his campaign headquarters at 10:30 p.m., thanking his supporters, volunteers and family members.

"We won the sign war by 10 to one — I wish signs could vote," he joked, making the somber crowd of about 80 supporters laugh.

He congratulated Eyolfson and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and for that party’s majority win. "We had a good run," said Fletcher.

Fletcher and the Conservatives had held the riding since 2004. They beat Liberal candidate Glen Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg, and ended the Liberals’ hold on the riding.

This time, his Liberal challenger was 52-year-old Eyolfson who took a leave of absence from the Health Sciences Centre in May to campaign in the riding. Eyolfson said it was his time in the health care system that spurred him to enter politics. He said he saw social issues that he knew he couldn’t be fixed with a trip to the hospital.

On Monday, the Liberal candidate handily beat the Conservative incumbent. A visit Saturday from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau - that had people lined up outside the St. James Civic Centre and down the street - might have helped Eyolfson and the Liberals the riding.

Incumbent Conservative Steven Fletcher joins supporters at his Headquarter in the Charleswood-StJames-Assiniboia-Headingley riding Monday Oct. 19, 2015.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Incumbent Conservative Steven Fletcher joins supporters at his Headquarter in the Charleswood-StJames-Assiniboia-Headingley riding Monday Oct. 19, 2015.

Statistically, the riding has one of the highest senior populations in Winnipeg, with almost 20 per cent of the population over the age of 65. It has the highest median age in the city at 44.

Historically, it is an expansive riding made up of various former rural municipalities that amalgamated into Winnipeg.

Fletcher, a quadriplegic, made a name for himself in Ottawa as a right-to-die champion, introducing two bills to legalize physician-assisted death in opposition to the Conservative party. He served on the Treasury Board for seven years and said he was happy to serve the "progressive" people of his riding. When he first ran in 2004, he was asked in a radio interview why people would vote an unknown political newcomer in a wheelchair rather than the well-known Winnipeg mayor, Murray. Fletcher recalled his answer: "I think the people of Charleswood-St. James would rather have someone paralyzed from the neck down than paralyzed from the neck up."

When asked what he plans to do now, Fletcher said he is going to "ride off into the sunset and reflect." He said he was proud of the work he did for the riding, helping to get funding for CentrePort, seniors’ programs, twinning the Trans-Canada Highway, the expansion of bike paths and community centres.

Volunteers at Fletcher’s campaign headquarters were stunned that he lost.

"I’m shocked," said volunteer Al Pich who knocked on doors with Fletcher and was part of a glum crowd that bucked up and cheered for Fletcher when he arrived at his campaign headquarters. "I’m disappointed," said Pich, who is retired. "I didn’t see that coming."

With nearly 20 years of experience as a physician, Eyolfson has said he witnessed first-hand the effects of government policy on the health and well-being of Canadians. Problems with public health and safety often first become evident in emergency departments. Chronic disease, poverty, addiction, mental health, violence, lack of housing, and inadequate access to care were problems he saw on a daily basis, his Liberal party profile said.

"Doug believes it’s important for elected officials to use compassion, good judgment, and reliable evidence—not ideology to make sound public policy decisions," it said.

Fletcher’s other challenger was NDP candidate Tom Paulley, a retired corrections officer who took the place of Stefan Jonasson when he was dumped by the New Democrats for remarks he made on social media. It was the second time Paulley challenged Fletcher for the riding. In 2011, Paulley finished with 20 per cent of the vote. Fletcher took 57 per cent of the vote. Kevin Nichols, a safety technician with the City of Winnipeg, ran for the Green party.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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History

Updated on Monday, October 19, 2015 at 9:56 PM CDT: Updated

10:13 PM: Adds livestream.

10:23 PM: Removes livestream.

10:59 PM: Adds video.

11:15 PM: Adds Storify.

11:38 PM: Write-through

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