Waters: Kelowna-area candidates finding its not just about who you talk to

While his boss wants a one-on-debate with the NDP leader, Liberal MLA Norm Letnick wants no part of a one-on-one with his Tory challenger.

In elections, it may be about party politics but it’s not always a case of follow the leader.

Seems like what’s good for the boss is not always so good for those working under her. And, in the case of Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, it could be because he has more to lose.

Last week, Premier Christy Clark tried to get NDP leader Adrian Dix to agree to debate her one-on-one but Dix refused, saying it would not be fair to exclude the leaders of the other parties running in next month’s B.C. election.

A few days later, Kelowna-Lake Country B.C. Conservative candidate Graeme James tried to same tactic on Letnick. This time it was the Liberal who refused.

During elections, every move is political, but Dix and Letnick were right rebuff the one-on-one invitations. They are always a showcase for the challenger and a chance to take the spotlight off others trying to unseat an incumbent. In Clark’s case it’s a desperate move to give her party a bump in the polls.

But while Letnick, who is also B.C.’s agriculture minister, is taking the high road with his refusal to go mano-a-mano with James, there could be more at play here.

He would be loathed to admit it but the fact is he’s running from the front. Incumbents have an inherent advantage in political races despite the fact they carry a target on their backs. Sure, they carry the can for the party they represent—even more so if that’s the party in power and it’s unpopular—but they are also the one who already has the job. And, in Letnick’s case, the one who easily won the riding with a 5,000-vote cushion four years ago, taking 52 per cent of the vote. Unlike his boss, he’s not playing catchup.

Polls have Clark and her party far behind the NDP and Dix knows when it comes to being the next premier of B.C., it’s his race to lose.

If Clark loses, she will still be the leader of her party. If Letnick loses, he’s out of politics. In a way, the stakes are bigger for him.

James wants to challenge Letnick on the issue of agriculture. As minister, Letnick has not impressed his political foe, with James quoted as saying while he respects Letnick, he questions the MLA’s knowledge of the importance of, and urgency facing, agriculture in this province.

“We need a minister who not only understands the issues but is willing to fight for the farmer and orchardist,” James says in his best political rhetoric.

For his part Letnick says he’s willing to debate James, the NDP’s Mike Nuyens and anyone else who joins the Kelowna-Lake Country race— at upcoming all-candidates debates.

So, it seems when it comes to one-on-one debate strategies, what’s good for the goose is not always so good for the gander—at least not among B.C. Liberals.

Alistair Waters is the Capital News’ assistant editor.