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Naked politics

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Student articles

Amanda Truscott

Saanich-Gulf Islands, British Columbia

A tight race in Saanich-Gulf Islands ended with Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn holding onto his seat by 2,621 votes, fewer than the number won by  a candidate who had dropped out of the campaign.

NDP candidate Julian West’s resignation came too late for his name to be removed from the ballot, and he received 3, 667 votes. Conservative incumbent Lunn got 27,988 votes, and Liberal Briony Penn got 25, 367. Green candidate Andrew Lewis received 6, 732 votes.

Last Monday, a telephone message claiming to be from the NDP urged constituents to vote for West, who left the race amid controversy about an incident 12 years ago in which he supposedly exposed his naked body to a group of teenagers. 

Penn has also appeared in public without her clothes. During her time as a Green party candidate in 2001, she rode a horse through downtown Vancouver wearing nothing but panties and a long blonde wig, with the goal of stopping logging on Saltspring Island. The incident has not been as controversial as West’s.

In a trendy pub near downtown Victoria, supporters of local environmental groups watched with mingled hope and dismay as the 2008 election results came in. One of them was Charles Campbell, a spokesman for a group called the Dogwood Initiative.

“If the NDP votes actually went to Briony Penn she would be winning tonight,” Campbell said. “I won’t say who made the calls, but certainly [Lunn] is benefiting from that fraud.”

Campaigners for Lunn, celebrating in a cozy beachside seafood restaurant, offered a different explanation for his victory.

“Gary is a man of substance. He knows what he’s doing, he’s hardworking, and probably people see that,” said Vadym Graifer, a stock market trader and Conservative campaign volunteer.

Lunn greeted jubilant supporters to the tune of Orleans’s “Still the One.”

“I am more enthusiastic than ever to see the mandate that I have been given by the great people,” Lunn said. “That’s who gets the greatest thanks—to receive such an increased mandate, the largest mandate that I’ve ever received, on my fifth election.”

The crowd responded with loud chants of “Gary! Gary!”

Margaret Harper, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s mother, has volunteered in Lunn’s campaign for several years. “I knew Gary would win, and I was positive the Conservatives would be in power again,” she said, beaming.

Campbell was less pleased. “His record on the environment is appalling,” he said of Lunn. “He supports the asbestos industry, he supports the nuclear industry, he wants to see massive expansion of the tar sands.”

Sean O’Leary, a campaigner who works for Lunn in Ottawa, said he was re-elected because constituents appreciate the minister’s record. “Expansion of the Gulf Islands, I think the bringing more investment for infrastructure, expanding parks, expanding community centres— he’s done a lot for the community,” O’Leary said.

Last week, the Dogwood Initiative infuriated both the Conservatives and the Green party with its own phone messages to Saanich-Gulf Islands voters, encouraging them to vote Liberal in order to prevent oil tankers from travelling through the waters of Northern B.C.

The message said Lunn would not commit to a ban on the tankers. Lunn later left his constituents a message saying he would never allow tankers in the Inside Passage.

The Times Colonist quoted Lunn as defining the Inside Passage as “the narrow channel that winds its way down between Vancouver Island and the Mainland.”

Campbell took issue with that definition. “That’s not where we’re saying tankers are going to go, so Gary Lunn’s very good at twisting language around,” he said. “Yeah, you don’t have to allow tankers between Vancouver Island and the mainland for them to go up to Kitimat.”

Amanda Truscott is a student in the Master of Journalism program at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University.