Alex Atamanenko is greeted by NDP supporters as he arrives at the Portuguese Hall in Castlegar on Monday night to celebrate his re-election.

Alex Atamanenko is greeted by NDP supporters as he arrives at the Portuguese Hall in Castlegar on Monday night to celebrate his re-election.

Voters return Atamanenko for third term

NDP candidate garners 50 per cent of votes in Southern Interior riding

New Democrat Alex Atamanenko dominated the Southern Interior and will take his seat in Parliament for the vast riding once again.

Though the former school teacher won about half the votes, he is worried about his country’s future under the reins of  Harper’s first Conservative majority government.

Calling the election a “two-way race,” the riding’s three-time winner out-polled Conservative Stephen Hill by over 10 per cent and left Green candidate Bryan Hunt and Liberal representative Shan Lavell in his dust.

On the national scale, the NDP took its historic place as official opposition, pushing aside the Liberals to a third-place finish.

“I’m saddened by the national results, I’ll have to admit that,” Atamanenko said from the Portuguese Hall in Castlegar.

“I’m happy for our party but I’m really worried about my country. I think it’s up to us now as the official opposition to hold this government accountable and we’ll do the very best we can.”

Atamanenko said he stuck to his point of view during the campaign and didn’t let Hill’s aggressive style disrupt his path.

“The Conservative candidate came on strong.

“He certainly attacked me on a number of occasions and I just kept focus on what I believe is right and just kept moving forward,” he said.

Hill met with about 20 supporters at Rave’s Restaurant Monday, resigned as he watched Atamanenko cruise to victory but at the same time elated with the Conservative majority.

“It couldn’t be better, we wiped out the Bloc, we wiped out the Liberals and we’ve got a majority government for four more years – that’s perfect. What I was trying to get across to people is ‘Do we want to be part of that or continue to be on the wrong side of the government?’”

The Rossland resident is critical of NDP performance in the riding for the last six years suggesting Atamanenko may even retire before his third term is complete.

“We have the highest unemployment rate in British Columbia, we’ve lost 7,000 jobs in the last two years and half of downtown Trail is closed – it’s pretty obvious.”

Hunt didn’t capture the kind of Green attention he was looking for in the vast riding, which covers Salmo in the east to Princeton in the west and the U.S. border north to Kaslo, including Nelson.

“I think our country is sending the wrong message here,” he said from his home in Calgary. “I think allegations of elections fraud with the Conservatives and certainly the contempt of Parliament, which has never happened in our Canadian history, and the message we sent was, ‘We’re OK with it.’”

But Hunt was having a celebration for Green leader Elizabeth May, who became the first-ever Green MP by winning a seat for the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.

“I think she’s going to hold his feet to the fire and try do things ethically there and overall it will be a good thing,” he said. “Even though it’s just one person, it’s a big signal.”

Hunt said the biggest challenge was reaching those who voted strategically.

“I had about an equal measure people saying, ‘I’d really like to vote for you but I’m afraid the Conservatives will get in so I’m voting for Alex,’ and then vice versa,” he said. “We could have a much better Green showing if they didn’t even vote strategically at all.”

Lavell bottomed out with the least amount of votes, which is expected for a riding that has switched back between the Tories and NDP for decades and hasn’t seen a federal Liberal in power for over 100 years.

The 55-year-old with a nursing degree and a master’s degree in counselling psychology was selected to represent the riding last week after she failed to secure a seat in Okanagan/Coquihalla riding.

The Kelowna resident could not be reached by press time Monday night.

The Liberal candidate in the 2008 election, Brenda Jagpal, got the least votes of the major parties — 3,292. Atamanenko won with 22,693 votes, Conservative Rob Zandee drew 17,122, Green Andy Morel earned 4,573 and Marxist-Leninist candidate Brian Sproule only 80.