Rough night

Stephen Fuhr speaks with supporters, Monday night.

History repeated itself Monday as the federal Liberals' hold on a Kelowna riding proved to be as fragile as it was 47 years ago.

Incumbent MP Stephen Fuhr lost his seat to Conservative Tracy Gray, his defeat after one term mirroring the Liberals' loss of the riding in 1972.

Gray won 45.6 per cent of the vote in Kelowna-Lake Country, to Fuhr's 32.7 per cent at press time. Fuhr's vote totals went down 12 per cent from the 2015 election.

Fuhr trailed Gray consistently as the results started to come in last night, dampening the the mood at the outset at his election night headquarters inside the BNA pub in downtown Kelowna. At 9:35 p.m., after a jubilant Gray had addressed her supporters, Fuhr came to the pub to concede defeat.

Fuhr, 50, walked the upstairs banquet room, embracing supporters, before offering his remarks.

"The tribe has spoken," Fuhr said. "I just knew it was going to be hard (to win re-election). And obviously it was.

"Obviously, this wasn't the way I wanted it to end. But I'll focus on what I was able to achieve, because that's never going to change," Fuhr said.

Glum as they were at Fuhr's defeat, the approximately 30 Liberal supporters on hand were buoyed by the party's re-election. That outcome, too, was an echo of 1972, when the Liberals lost their Kelowna outpost as the party was returned to power with a minority government.

"The good news . . . is we have a Liberal government at the end of the day," said Fuhr, whose voice broke as he thanked those who worked on his failed re-election bid.

Fuhr said he asked himself over the last while what he might have done different on the campaign trail. "And I really can't think of anything," he said.

In remarks later to reporters, Fuhr said he didn't believe there was any particular local issue on which he felt voters had turned against him. He noted the Liberals suffered defeats all across Western Canada.

"I don't necessarily know if voters turned on me. I looked at the map, and basically, from the Manitoba-Ontario border to the Lower Mainland, (Liberals) got knocked out," Fuhr said. "It's completely blue from left to right, and top to bottom."

Fuhr said his immediate priorities are to get back to Ottawa and wind up his office. He urged Gray to retain his Kelowna office staff, noting he had hired them from Conservative Ron Cannan in 2015.

Asked if he thought it would be another 47 years before another federal Liberal is elected in Kelowna, Fuhr said: "I don't know. I don't think so," he said. "We are a lot more progressive than we were. I think we have the propensity to be progressive, and I think Liberals will get elected here."

Of his own immediate prospects, Fuhr said: "I'm pretty sure I can add value some way to the community. And I'll be looking for that opportunity."

Fuhr's girlfriend of two years, Anne Leistner, told the gathered Liberals that Fuhr's defeat was a "tragedy" given how hard she said he'd worked on behalf of individual constituents and to secure federal investments for the riding.

"I've never seen a harder-working person, and someone so focused on helping people," Leistner said. "It made me fall in love with him."

Born in Alberta and raised in the B.C. Interior, Fuhr described himself as a lifelong Conservative before becoming disillusioned with the government of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. Fuhr was a military pilot before retiring from the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2009, then had a stint in aviation technology before working overseas as a private pilot to a rich Egyptian businessman.

In the 2008 and 2011 elections, the federal Liberal vote had collapsed in Kelowna, dropping from its usual range of about 25 per cent support to the low double digits. Helped by the appeal of then-new Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Fuhr won 46.1 per cent of the local vote in 2015.

Fuhr was helped then by a controversial decision by local Greens not to run a candidate, with some party members actively working on behalf of Fuhr because of the Liberals' pledge to introduce proportional representation. Liberals abandoned that promise, incensing local Greens, who did run a candidate against Fuhr this election.

NDP candidate Justin Kulik was third in Kelowna-Lake Country, with 12.1 per cent of the vote, and Green candidate Travis Ashley won 7.4 per cent.