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The Globe and Mail

Ex-diplomat Alexander wins Ajax-Pickering for Conservatives

Christopher Alexander, Former Deputy Special Representative to the UN Secretary General in Afghanistan and former Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan, speaks during a meeting of The Empire Club of Canada at the Royal York Hotel on Front St., Toronto, September 17, 2009.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

In a win emblematic of the blue wave that washed over Southern Ontario, former diplomat Chris Alexander took Ajax-Pickering for the Conservatives, knocking off three-time incumbent Liberal Mark Holland.

The riding - a sprawling mass of subdivisions and strip malls east of Toronto - was emblematic of the sort of suburban constituencies on which the Tories built their majority and which the Grits failed to keep.

But it was also a faceoff between two fresh-faced, relatively young and high-profile candidates.

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Toronto born-and-bred, 42-year-old Mr. Alexander is the Oxford-educated former ambassador to Afghanistan, who also held a United Nations post in that country before moving to Ajax in 2009 and setting his sights on the seat.

Mr. Holland, 36, was first elected in 2004, after stints on local and regional council. In Parliament, he earned a reputation as a skilled debater and Question-Period pitbull. Most recently, he served as the critic for public safety in Michael Ignatieff's shadow cabinet.

Mr. Alexander arrived at his election party, a small affair at a local golf club, shortly after polls closed and early returns saw him take the lead.

He shook hands with supporters and kissed them on the cheeks as they applauded.

"I think, honestly, it means the economy matters to people. The anxiety is still there," he said of his impending victory. "All the leaders have been pitching their vision - but the most realistic one came from our party."

At Mr. Holland's gathering, at a nearby restaurant, the mood was more subdued, with anxious supporters letting out quiet gasps as they watched the NDP leading the Liberals nationally.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m., with 26 per cent of polls reporting, Mr. Holland stepped onto a small staircase overlooking his supporters and accepted defeat.

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"I have some bad news - I have lost the election. I will be conceding. I want to congratulate Chris Alexander on a hard fought campaign. I wish him all the best in serving this riding," he said.

His voice breaking, he added: "This is not about winning. This is about standing up and caring and fighting for what you believe in," to whoops and applause from supporters, then sounded a hopeful note as he called on the Liberal Party to avoid pointing fingers in defeat and instead called on them to rebuild.

In the end, Mr. Alexander took about 44 per cent of the vote to Mr. Holland's 38. Meatcutter Jim Koppens, carrying the NDP standard in the race, took 15 per cent and businessman Mike Harilaid finished with about 3 per cent for the Greens.

Mr. Alexander won the Conservative nomination in 2009 and has been canvassing in the riding since that time.

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