No one would accuse Keith Pacey of being overconfident.
He started worrying Thursday night when election returns showed Liberal candidate Monique Smith bolting out to a fast lead.
“What went through my mind?” Pacey asked. “My stomach, right now.”
In the end there was no need to worry because Smith defeated incumbent MPP Al McDonald by 2,800 votes to take the Nipissing riding.
Pacey, Smith’s media coordinator during the Ontario provincial election campaign, was on hand during the 2002 Nipissing byelection, in which Liberal George Maroosis, like Smith, jumped out in front of McDonald early and appeared on his way to victory.
When that final advance poll came in though, it was McDonald and not Maroosis who was headed for Queen’s Park.
“I remember what happened last time,” Pacey said. “The lead built very quickly to somewhere around 1,000 votes and then it just kept eroding away.”
The only thing that eroded away by the end of the night this time, though, was the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.
Smith’s lead continued to grow, and Pacey’s anxiety let up somewhat.
“I’m not getting cocky at all,” he said, while staring at the tally board. “It’s just nice to see, and when the board is filled over there, then ask me how I feel.”
People weren’t feeling too well over at McDonald’s Main Street headquarters. In fact the mood was decidedly downbeat.
Unlike the byelection, there was no sense the Tory candidate could pull off the same sort of comeback.
“I’m just worried about these percentages,” said one man, as he entered numbers into a calculator.
The fact that NDP candidate Terry O'Connor had increased his party's tally by almost 50 per cent from the 2002 byelection didn't help either.
McDonald and his partner Wendy Abdallah elected to stay at home, and campaign manager David Kilgour delivered the news to them by phone.
Upon arriving to give his concession speech, McDonald appeared to handle his defeated philosophically and with grace.
“This is my hometown, this is what I believe in, this is Northern Ontario, and I’m a Northerner,” McDonald said.
“I believed we were doing the right thing, but the people spoke, the people of Nipissing and Ontario spoke, and we’ve got to listen to them.”
McDonald wished Smith “all the best.”
“I hope you serve the people of Nipissing to the best of your ability because you know what, they deserve it, they deserve the best representation,” McDonald said.
And he conceded there was very little he could have done to keep his footing against the winds of change.
“I don’t think I could have done anything differently, I don’t think I could have worked any harder,” he said.
“But tomorrow’s another day.”