Kelowna West residents have until the end of September to use former MLA Christy Clark’s office in Westbank if they need help with a provincial issue.
After that, well, no one seems to know for sure.
While the two MLAs in the adjacent ridings of Kelowna-Mission and Kelowna-Lake Country, Liberals Steve Thomson and Norm Letnick, have said Kelowna West constituents can seek assistance from them, the clerk of the B.C. Legislature told the Capital News Tuesday there is no formal plan in place.
And he said he was told by one MLA his office is so swamped it could not take on the extra workload.
Craig James said he plans to take up the issue with the entire Liberal caucus once the B.C. Legislature reconvenes next week.
“But right now, I think it’s up to the Liberal caucus,” said James.
Shane Mills, executive director of the issues management for the Liberals, said he expects Thomson and Letnick will pick up the slack as best they can, but he said his party is calling on new NDP Premier John Horgan to call a byelection in Kelowna West as soon as possible.
“At the end of the day, there are a lot of people there who need representation,” said Mills.
Clark, B.C.’s former premier, abruptly quit politics earlier this month. Horgan has up to six months to call a byelection in Kelowna West. James said once it has been called, the campaign would run for 28 days and it could take another 21 days for election returns to be confirmed.
Horgan has given no indication as to when he will call the byelection but is not expected to call it soon because with Clark’s resignation, his NDP/B.C. Green alliance has just a two-seat majority in the Legislature. And one of those seats will be occupied by the yet-to-named Speaker of the Legislature.
James said MLA constituency offices are staffed by employees of the MLA, while the leases are paid for directly by the Legislative Assembly. Office expenses come out of an allowance given to the MLA.
James said with no MLA currently in place in Kelowna West that means there is no employer, so the office staff will be let go. He said if any of them want to leave sooner than the end of September, his office would handle severance arrangements. There are two employees at Clark’s former constituency office.
Meanwhile, James said the lease on the office in Westbank will be maintained and the next person elected MLA in the riding will be asked to use the space as his or her constituency office.
“Breaking a lease is just too expensive,” said James.
The clerk said he plans to recommend a “buddy system” to cover the needs of riding residents, similar to the one used following the death of the late Liberal MLA Fred Gingell who died in office in 1999. At that time a nearby MLA handled the needs of his Gingell’s constituents.
The Kelowna West constituency office is slated to officially close Sept. 30 unless the employees leave earlier.