In an evening filled with close votes and races too tight to call, possibly leading to a minority government, Liberal MLA Dan Ashton’s re-election never seemed to be in doubt.
Ashton took the lead in the very first poll reporting in, and never lost it. With all the ballots reported, Ashton has a solid grip on the Penticton riding with 13,671 votes, well ahead of NDP candidate Tarik Sayeed at 7,150 votes. Green Connie Sahlmark made a strong showing, with 4,707 votes, accounting for 18.44 per cent of the votes counted.
Before the polls closed at 8 p.m. Ashton, the incumbent candidate, admitted to feeling a bit nervous.
“I am on pins and needles, to be frank,” he said.
But as the evening wore on and his lead solidified, rising above 5o per cent of the votes cast, Ashton thanked his supporters who dropped by the casual gathering in Penticton’s Boston Pizza.
“I am not here because of me, I am here because of each and every one of you,” said Ashton. “When you make a promise and you deliver, it makes such a big difference.”
One of those promises is the expansion to Penticton Regional Hospital, which Ashton says is both a promise kept and a goal for his next term.
“I want to get this hospital finished,” said Ashton, explaining its importance to the whole South Okanagan Similkameen. “I want to be sure it is finished to how we promised it would be.”
Also important to communities throughout the riding is affordable housing, according to Ashton.
“We are in the process of delivering 179 units here in Penticton. Peachland will be underway very shortly,” said Ashton. “When we all sit down and work together, we can make these projects deliverable.”
Sayeed also praised the work of his supporters.
”This election was about building a better B.C. for every one of us,” said Sayeed. “I’m proud of all the work we’ve done.”
Sayeed said he was overwhelmed by the support he received during the campaign, adding that they need to win the younger generation.
Ethan Freistadt is one of those youth, a Summerland Secondary School student who volunteered with Sayeed’s campaign.
“The whole experience of helping out on the campaign was beneficial for us all,” said Freistadt.
Ashton’s children were also at the party to support him. His son Coleton said he was never worried, but daughter Chantal admitted a little concern.
“It was nerve-wracking,” said Chantal. “We always have faith in him. He’s never lost an election. You can definitely tell his hard work pays off.”
Dan Ashton was first elected as Liberal MLA for the Penticton riding in 2013, after serving two terms as Penticton mayor and three terms as a city councillor. Ashton, selected as the Liberal candidate after Bill Barisoff retired, won the 2013 election with 10,487 votes, ahead of NDP challenger Richard Cannings’ 9,225 votes. Cannings would later run for, and win, the new federal riding of South Okanagan West Kootenay for the NDP.
As MLA, Ashton chaired the Committee on Finance and Government Services, is a member of the Treasury Board and Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Finance. He is also president of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, a cross-border working group.
Ashton isn’t sure any of those positions will continue in the coming term.
“At this point in time, I am still a candidate until the election is officially declared,” said Ashton, who also wouldn’t speculate on whether he might get stepped up in his second term.
“I will be very happy with whatever the premier … appoints me to,” said Ashton. “My first priority is looking after the citizens that I represent.”
Like Ashton, Sayeed was trying to move from Penticton city council to provincial politics, securing the NDP nomination in November 2016. Sayeed, who was serving his first term on council after being elected in 2014, grew up in Bangladesh and comes from what he calls a strong political family: his grandfather was a freedom fighter and family members continue to serve in a number of elected roles.
Connie Sahlmark, representing the Greens in the 2017 race, was a full-time student when she took on the candidacy. This was her first time running for office, though she had involved herself in political issues, like volunteering with the Save Skaha Park Society.
The NDP last held the riding in 1996, when it was part of the Okanagan-Penticton riding with MLA Jim Beattie. Since then, the area has trended Liberal, with the strongest performance in 2001, when Barisoff was elected with almost 63 per cent of the vote.