Thunder Bay-Rainy River Liberal candidate Don Rusnak rode a wave of Liberal support to victory Monday night, soundly defeating NDP incumbent John Rafferty by approximately 6,000 votes.

With all 195 polls reporting, Rusnak had 18,523 votes to Rafferty's 12,439. Conservative Moe Comuzzi placed third with 8,876, while the Green Party's Christy Radbourne increased the riding's Green vote to 2,201.

According to the Elections Canada website, voter turnout in the riding was approximately 66 per cent.  That number does not include voters who registered on election day.  

Rusnak told CBC News his first steps will be to meet with mayors, business leaders and community groups to educate himself about the issues in the riding. 

Don Rusnak

Liberal Don Rusnak is the new MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

"It's going to be a bit of a learning curve, but in my career, I've climbed steep learning curves quite easily before so I have the experience to do it," he said.

He added the Liberals' plan to invest in infrastructure should help address voters' concerns about drawing industry back to the riding.

Rusnak is the riding's first aboriginal candidate; he said that although aboriginal groups such as the Assembly of First Nations favoured the NDP's platform, not all aboriginal voters agreed. 

"We canvassed the First Nations here in the riding, and we were hearing a different story—that, much like all the people in the riding, they saw Justin Trudeau and the plan as a positive plan for change," he said.

Things changed two weeks ago

Rafferty, who easily swept the riding in 2011, said he noticed a change in voter intentions about two weeks ago. 

"People were saying that they were going to be voting for Trudeau. Most people didn't know who Mr. Rusnak was, but they said they're voting Trudeau," he said, adding the result reflects a desire for change that ended up going against the NDP.

"The sense that I was getting from people at the door was that it was anybody but Conservative, anybody but Mr. Harper," he said. "People went back to, I guess, their comfort zone." 

Rafferty said Monday night that he had tried to call Rusnak but had not yet reached him.  He said he left a message wishing Rusnak the best and offering to help make his transition as easy as possible.

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