Kootenay-Columbia Liberal candidate Don Johnston spent Monday evening in the basement of the Hume Hotel in Nelson, surrounded by a smattering of supporters, watching television while election results rolled in from across the country. The moment Justin Trudeau was announced as the next prime minister of Canada, the Nelson native pumped his fists in the air and cheered: “Line up, pot’s legal!”
“I’m feeling absolutely blown away and happy,” a tearful Johnston told the Star. “I got my Canada back. When I did my nomination speech in this very hotel the title was ‘I want my Canada back’ and I’m so happy to have my Canada back. The possibilities are limitless and for the last nine years we’ve done nothing but limit them. It’s so nice to be free of that weight.”
He said he’s excited Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been defeated.
“Justin [Trudeau] ran an amazing campaign, he’s put together an amazing team, and he’s definitely ready. That question is dead and gone. To see this? This is so good for Canada and so exciting. We’ve all heard there’s no way a Liberal can win in this riding, but our first hope and goal tonight was to have a Liberal government, and now we know we’re going to have that.”
Local supporter Cheryl Elliott was effusive as well.
“We were all holding our breath, and as soon as the results started coming in from the Maritimes we realized the best possible scenario was starting to happen,” she said. “I think Justin will be an amazing prime minister. He has a lot to learn but he will surround himself with very smart people, and if he doesn’t know something he’ll ask for advice. He’s got a coalition of really bright people guiding him.”
Johnston’s communications director, Brian May, was surprised by the results.
“I didn’t expect this. I don’t trust the polls, but people are obviously starting to hear our positive message. Justin stayed on message the whole way through the campaign, he never went negative, and we ran things the same way here.”
Addressing Johnston’s pot proclamation, May said: “Our policy is legalization, the NDP’s is decriminalization. There’s a big difference. Legalization means putting controls on it, putting controls on the kids and controls on the gangs and taking control of the situation.”
He said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s dismissive comment about Trudeau’s marijuana-smoking past during a debate was “immature” and showed how out of touch the NDP leader is with young voters. He also criticized the local NDP campaign, which he called “a campaign of fear.”
“They said ‘I’m the only one who can beat Harper,’ and that just wasn’t true.”
May said there were plenty of disenfranchised Conservative voters elsewhere in the riding who would never vote for Green or NDP — a fact he feels some overlooked.
Liberal riding association vice president Reggie Goldsbury, who celebrated with his wife Xyiah, told the Star transparency was the most important issue for him in this election, and said seeing Trudeau elected gives him hope.
“As a young person — I’m 25 — I want to know what my government is responsible for. There’s been this shroud of secrecy and we’ve had no say, the people of Canada, and that’s why I’m happy to be supporting the Liberal Party.”
Former Nelson Mayor Dave Elliot was also there to support Johnston, and said the Liberals are gathering political strength in the Kootenays. “I have a sense we’ve come a long way and Nelson will start to open their eyes to the Liberals. Most people are pretty unhappy with the Conservatives, and I think the main thrust of this election was ‘anyone but Harper’.”
And though he wasn’t successful this election — Johnston is poised to finish third, behind the Conservatives and NDP — Johnston was still elated to spend the night in Spiritbar.
“We chose the Hume because I’m a local boy. I grew up here, more downstairs than upstairs, and to me the Martins are the epitome of the small town entrepreneur and concerned corporate citizen. They’re a lot more than business people — they’re Nelsonites through and through. There’s no better place.”
May said he believes the election’s results show a “generational shift.”
“This means a lot of 24-year-olds, 35-year-olds, they got out and made a vote. They got committed, and if they got committed this time it means they’re going to be committed next time. Trudeau shows that generational change. Here’s a 43-year-old winning the election with a great team behind him.”
Johnston feels proud.
“We’re proud of the campaign we ran and we’re proud of the way we did it.”
An earlier version of this story misidentified Cheryl Elliot. Also, Brian May was Johnston’s communications director, not his campaign manager.