First-term Victoria councillor Lisa Helps defied the odds and eked out a win over incumbent Mayor Dean Fortin Saturday.
With all polls reporting, Helps received 9,200 votes compared to Fortin’s 9,111. Former Liberal Cabinet Minister Ida Chong’s free-spending campaign never resonated with voters. Chong, a Saanich resident, had 3,275 votes while broadcaster Stephen Andrew placed fourth with 2,380.
Helps credited her win to a strong team of volunteers who she said had been working the doorsteps since July.
“It happened through grassroots democracy and hard work. It happened through a strong team of people who came forward and shared, not all the same ideas that I have, not necessarily the same path, but the same vision for the city. And the diversity of Team Helps is shocking. We had people from all political parties, all four of them,” Helps said.
When asked what may have been the difference, Fortin said it was likely the Johnson Street Bridge.
“For some, clearly the bridge is an issue,” he said. “But still it was really close and we have to recognize that and also recognize our opponent ran a really good campaign.”
Fortin addressed a small crowd after all polls had reported — until then, the race with Helps had been neck-and-neck.
“I can’t remember a race that’s been this close,” said Victoria Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming.
Lifting pages from the playbook of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, seen as a next generation politician whose social media savvy, grassroots campaigns have elevated his status from underdog to visionary, Helps managed to mobilize a small army of volunteers en route to the mayor’s office.
Helps also had the goal of increasing voter turnout. The plan seemed to work. Overall turnout increased to 39 per cent compared to 26 per cent in 2011.
Helps, who declared her intention to challenge Fortin back in January, promised to take the city to the leading edge in areas such as green building practises, affordable housing and sewage treatment.
Considered by many to be a longshot after former Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong entered the race against New Democrat Fortin, Helps appears to have simply outworked the others.
Helps will see several familiar faces as she looks around the council table. All incumbents were returned along with newcomers Jeremy Loveday and Margaret Lucas.