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Polls busiest in hotly-contested B.C. ridings

A woman carries an umbrella as she enters a polling station to vote in the federal election in Sidney, B.C., on Vancouver Island, on Monday May 2, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/ The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck/ The Globe and Mail

Candidates and their supporters knocked on doors, delivered lunches and made telephone appeals in a last-ditch effort to boost voter turnout for an election that confounded early expectations.

At the campaign office of Vancouver Kingsway Liberal candidate Wendy Yuan, about 20 people were working the phones and dozens of others were being dispatched on a street-by-street door-knocking push to urge people to vote.

Ms. Yuan also lost a tight three-way race to New Democrat Don Davies in 2008. In the previous four federal elections, dating back to 1997, the riding had been taken by Liberal candidates - including David Emerson, who ran and won as a Liberal in 2006 but crossed the floor to join the Conservatives shortly after the election, angering many voters who'd supported him.

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Mr. Davies, the incumbent, was also out knocking on doors Monday, focusing on areas and individuals who had previously indicated their support.

"We're honing in on people we think we can count on," said Sam Heppell, Mr. Davies's campaign manager.

Volunteers were also reminding prospective voters about rules relating to having the proper identification when they cast their ballot, and poll closing time of 7 p.m., which was earlier than in some past elections.

The riding's Conservative candidate, Trang Nguyen, spoke in her campaign of her family's repeated attempts to escape Vietnam when she was a child and her gratitude for their sponsorship by the Canadian government. On Monday, her campaign volunteers were making last-minute calls to prospective constituents but those efforts were not enough to propel her past Mr. Davies, whom she trailed by more than 10,000 votes.

Vancouver East NDP candidate, incumbent Libby Davies, cast her ballot in the morning, delivered lunch to volunteers at mid-day, and was to wrap up the evening with supporters at the recently renovated Waldorf Hotel.

Hundreds of volunteers fanned out in Newton-North Delta to corral votes for Liberal candidate Sukh Dhaliwal, who was first elected in 2006 and won again in 2008.

"Sukh Dhaliwal has one of the largest political machines in Western Canada, if not the country," said communications director Jonathan Ross on Monday afternoon. "There's very few in any province, in any party, that can match our manpower."

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Hundreds of volunteers phoned voters, knocked on doors and drove people to polling stations on Monday, he added.

"We've identified a lot of votes and we're confident that if we can 'pull' our identified vote, we can win," Mr. Ross said. "We're confident of the identifications we've made - now it's just a matter of getting them to the polls."

In the end, Mr. Dhaliwal lost to challenger Jinny Sims, the NDP candidate who edged past Mr. Dhaliwal with 903 votes and 33.4 per cent of votes cast in the riding.

Turnout at most polls across the province was light but steady in the hours before the dinner-time crush.

Unlike the unprecedented crowds at the advance polls, early turnouts Monday did not overwhelm polling station workers, Elections Canada spokesperson Susan Friend said Monday afternoon.

Turnout in the ridings of Victoria, and Vancouver East - where incumbents were expected to be re-elected - was "quite light," she said. In Vancouver Centre, where incumbent Liberal Hedy Fry held on to her seat with 31 per cent of votes, compared with 26 per cent for Conservative candidate Jennifer Clarke, Elections Canada reported voter turnout of 59.1 per cent.

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The busiest polls were in the most hotly contested ridings. Polling stations were busy in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, a Conservative riding where incumbent Cathy McLeod kept her seat; and Skeena-Bulkley Valley, where NDP incumbent Nathan Cullen also fended off a challenge from Conservative candidate Clay Harmon.

Voter turnout fell to 58.8 per cent in the October, 2008, election. Turnout was slightly higher, at 61.4 per cent, this time around.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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