It was eight years ago tonight, one of the most amazing nights of my life. It was the end of a wild weeks long ride, and the start of another. It’s was one of those nights I will never forget for the rest of my life.
That night, I worked in a campaign office in a small strip mall in Thunder Bay, at the corners of Arthur St. East and Archibald St. South, as we received the vote totals coming in from scrutineers all over the riding of Thunder Bay-Rainy River. It was exciting, euphoric and after about 45 minutes of taking in numbers, we knew we had it. We all rushed over the Chicago Joes, the restaurant and bar located in the Victoria Inn closer to the Thunder Bay Airport, to take in the results and celebrate with the volunteers.
And what a celebration it was. In was only a few weeks before that that things were looking grim. The NDP was struggling nationally and we were in a three-way dogfight in our riding. I remember spending some time late in the evenings with my wife on the phone, honestly worrying about being out of a job soon and that we wouldn’t pull it out. Stephen Harper came to our riding, then Michael Ignatieff came to our riding. The blood was in the water and we knew we had a hard job ahead of us.
Then that debate night happened. Hashtag fail happened. Michael Ignatieff’s voting attendance record happened too. It was an electric night that turned everything on its head. Then later we had Jack Layton on “Tout le monde en parle”, and a chord was struck. The Orange Wave started to build. In our riding, before that point, Jack Layton was not very popular. The party gave every campaign big signs that said “Jack Layton at the ________ Team” on them in Orange, White and Green; ours sat in a barn in a farm outside of Thunder Bay, where we stored our signs. Those “Jack Layton and the Northern Ontario Team” signs were not wanted.
But after those events, it all changed. I remember the big rally we held in Thunder Bay in the weeks after, packed to the rafters, everyone chanting Jack’s name with such passion, as he held his cane high in a triumphant manner. Those big team signs, they went out the door so fast and people wanted them. It was a euphoric time for sure. We had gone from worrying about the worst to now thinking about maybe being in government, reaching the goal we had always reached for.
So, on that night when we got together, we were watching the results coming in. For one of my colleagues from Ottawa and I, we were watching the results from Quebec to see who these new MPs were going to be. Some were people that we knew of, like Romeo Saganash and Guy Caron, who to that point was an Economist with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, someone our office worked on the forestry file with. There were new names and faces too, watching people like Hélène Laverdière defeat Gilles Duceppe, and others taking out long-time MPs. It was a crazy night.
Of course, that was all tempered by the fact that the Harper Conservatives got a majority, but only steeled our resolve to do what we could when we got back to Ottawa and keep up the good fight. And of course, on that night, none of us knew what would come over the next few months and how that part of this story would end. But it was a night full of potential, promise, love and hope for the future.
So, on this day, eight years later, I still remember that night, those days, that experience and think back on it all with such fondness. While the days that came after were surely hard, and 2015 was also hard, those facts do not diminish that night when the Orange Wave lifted the Orange Team to new heights. We listened to Jack, not letting people tells us what couldn’t be done and followed his example. Good memories indeed of what was and hopes for what could still be someday.