Kelowna-Mission Liberal Steve Thomson (left) and Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal Norm Letnick on election night. —Image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

‘Team Okanagan’ colleagues praise Clark

Former premier and Kelowna-West MLA Christy Clark lauded as a great leader

Outgoing B.C. Liberal leader and soon-to-be former Kelowna-West MLA Christy Clark has received glowing tributes from her “Team Okanagan” colleagues in light of her sudden departure from B.C. politics.

Clark surprised many, including Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick and Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson late last week when she told her caucus in Penticton she planned to quit as both party leader and the MLA this coming Friday.

“I was surprised and disappointed,” said Thomson, who served in all of Clark’s cabinets as forest, lands and natural resource operations minister. “I think she provided tremendous leadership.”

Thomson said he knew she was considering stepping down but was unaware of her decision until she announced it to the caucus last Thursday. She went public with her decision a day later.

Clark, who along with Thomson and Letnick referred to themselves collectively as Team Okanagan, represented Kelowna West (formerly Westside-Kelowna) since winning the seat in a byelection shortly after the 2013 provincial election.

Prior to that she represented a Vancouver riding but lost it in the 2013 election the NDP’s David Eby, currently B.C.’s attorney-general. Ben Stewart, who held the Westside-Kelowna seat for the Liberals in 2013 stepped down to let Clark run when she lost her Vancouver seat.

As recently as July 1, Clark had publicly stated she would stay on as Liberal leader and Kelowna-West MLA .

Thomson described Clark as a great leader who gave her ministers plenty of latitude to do their jobs and as someone who led by example through hard work.

“She did a tremendous job and has left a very positive legacy,” he said.

Letnick, who Clark appointed agriculture minister in the last Liberal government, said he was also surprised Clark stepped down.

He said he feels the province owes Clark a debt of gratitude for the job she did, leading the province for the last six-and-a-half years and helping create one of the best provincial economies in the country.

But he said the job of premier had an impact on her personal life. Clark is a single mother with a teenaged son. And he acknowledged political leaders are not always popular. Still, he feels Clark made the right decision for the benefit of the province.

On Monday, Clark said she is “done with a public life” and is looking forward to spending more time with her son.

Prior to her announcement, Clark had won praise from West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater for the job she did as the local MLA, helping the city with a number of infrastructure projects.

Personally popular with Kelowna West voters, Clark garnered more than 60 per cent of the vote in the last provincial election. She regularly attended events in her riding, which includes West Kelowna and downtown Kelowna.

Letnick described Clark as great role model for anyone who wants to devote their time to public service, adding she demanded the best out of everyone who worked for her, and of herself.

“I’ll miss her,” he said.

As for the future, both Letnick and Thomson ruled themselves out of a bid for the Liberal leadership and both men said their priority remains serving their constituents.

The Liberal party executive has 28 days to meet and set out the process for electing a new leader.

As for a byelection in Kelowna West, Premier John Horgan has up to six months to call it and is not expected be in any hurry.

Letnick said with Clark’s departure, the one-vote majority the NDP-B.C. Green alliance has in the Legislature goes to two and that will give Horgan more room to operate his government without having to rely on the Speaker of the Legislature to get involved in many tie-breaking votes.

Meanwhile, it is not clear what will happen to Clark’s constituency office. Officials at the office in Westbank said Tuesday they did not know and referred calls to Clark’s communications officer. Calls from the Capital News were not returned.

Thomson said he did not know what would happen to the office and Letnick said he assumed it would stay open.

Both MLAs said if Kelowna-West constituents need assistance, they could go to the constituency office if it remains open, or seek help from either of their constituency offices.