Wednesday, August 6, 2003 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

Christian Laforce
Former Halifax Citadel MLA Jane Purves says there are worse things than not being the minister of health.

Citadel won by one of largest margins ever
Hard-fought seat will help Grits make inroads in metro Halifax

By Chad Lucas / Staff Reporter

Liberal Leader Danny Graham couldn't lift his Grits out of third place in the legislature standings, but he could claim at least one victory Tuesday night - the fight for his home turf.

His battle with Conservative Health Minister Jane Purves and former NDP MLA Peter Delefes was one of the most closely watched races in the election.

Mr. Graham won his constituency of Halifax Citadel by 504 votes, the largest margin of victory in this seat in at least five elections.

It was a key win for the Liberals, who desperately needed to make inroads in metro Halifax.

It was also a personal victory for Mr. Graham, who would have been in an awkward position had his decision to run in such a historically close riding against a high-profile cabinet minister backfired and left him seatless.

But Mr. Graham said he wasn't afraid of the challenge.

"At the end of the day, Nova Scotians want leaders who are ready to be direct when it's time to be direct," he said.

"We drove a stake in the ground and said that for the Liberal party to do well in Nova Scotia generally, I need to show the commitment to run against the senior minister in this area and say to Nova Scotians that we're not afraid of any fight in metro."

The Liberal leader finished with 3,042 votes, while Mr. Delefes garnered 2,538. Ms. Purves fell to third with 2,466.

Marijuana Party leader Michael Patriquen scored 58 votes and Nova Scotia Party candidate James Marchione had 39.

At her campaign headquarters in a South Park Street apartment building, Ms. Purves' dozens of supporters grew more muted as the night progressed and television updates continued to show her in third place.

Down by about 300 votes with 19 polls yet to report, Ms. Purves began to move about the room, gathering consolatory hugs from her father, Jim, and her son, Tom, who stood near the back of the room with his wife and two-month-old daughter.

When the result was final and she was out of a job, Ms. Purves was still smiling.

"I'll get to be a grandmother for a while," she told her supporters.

"I'll let you in on a little secret: there are worse things in the world than not being the minister of health," she joked.

Ms. Purves said the third-place finish was disappointing but not surprising. She credited Mr. Delefes with running an impressive campaign.

"You could really sense the NDP strength from about Week Two."

She conceded that her government's image - including some of her moves as education minister in an area full of university students - may have hurt her.

"Certainly being part of the government that, while I believe we always tried to do the right thing, was not loved," she said. "I don't take it personally."

Ms. Purves and Mr. Delefes both made trips to Mr. Graham's headquarters on South Bland Street to congratulate him.

"I'm glad the voters of Halifax Citadel are giving Mr. Graham a chance in the legislature," Ms. Purves said.

She said she wasn't sure what would come next for her, or whether she'd be back on the political stage.

"Who knows?" she said with a laugh.

"I haven't made up my mind what to do now, but I think I actually might take a little vacation."

At Mr. Delefes' home base on Atlantic Street, the retired school principal said he felt he had a real shot at playing giant-killer to his political heavyweight opponents.

"While we're disappointed we didn't win, we're pleased with the outcome and we're certainly a force to be reckoned with in this riding in future elections," he said.

Mr. Graham's status as party leader probably propelled him to victory, the NDP candidate said.

"I think a lot of folks who may not have supported his party thought that the leader should be elected to the legislature," he said.

Mr. Delefes conceded that the summer election call may have kept many students away from the polls and hurt his chances.

"I think we would have had considerable support from students, but . . . these were the circumstances under which we had to conduct the campaign, and we did the best we could under the circumstances."

Mr. Delefes, a four-time candidate, said it was too early to say if he'd run again. But he didn't rule it out.

"Never say die," he said. "Rise from the ashes like the Phoenix bird and be back to fly another day."

Copyright © 2003 The Halifax Herald Limited