As the BC NDP and John Horgan charged to a historic election win and a majority mandate, Kelowna didn’t move an inch.
Multiple BC Liberal Party strongholds turned orange after Saturday night’s election, including parts of Richmond and the Fraser Valley, but the party is expected to retain all three of its seats in the Kelowna area, according to preliminary election night results.
The numbers, despite not yet including almost a half-million mail-in ballots, are decisive enough to see where the city’s political ideals rest, with each BC Liberal candidate taking more than 50 per cent of the vote in their respective ridings.
Incumbents Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country) and Ben Stewart (Kelowna West) are looking to be headed back to Victoria with provincial politics newcomer Renee Merrifield (Kelowna-Mission) as part of what will be one of the smallest BC Liberal caucuses since the party’s resurgence in the early 1990s. The Liberals are currently projected to win just 29 ridings, 12 fewer than the previous government and the fewest since the 1991 election in which the party surged to 17 seats from the zero it earned in the 1986 election.
The NDP, on the other hand, is projected to form its first majority government since 1996 with its largest-ever presence in the legislature at 55 seats.
Regardless of the pressures they’ll face as a small opposition voice, local representatives say they won’t back down.
“The role of opposition is to hold government to account; to be that voice that calls into question some of their actions, some of their decisions,” Merrifield said, speaking to media on her doorstep on Saturday night. “We have some major issues coming down the pipeline.”
As far as the shift towards the NDP goes, Stewart said he never saw it coming and held on to hopes the polls were wrong throughout the election. He said the tide may have turned due to the government’s COVID-19 response.
“Maybe people were comfortable with what they’ve seen in the last eight months with John Horgan and the NDP and we all tried to be supportive but maybe at the end of the day people were lulled into thinking this government was capable of doing more,” said Stewart.
With a record number of mail-in votes yet to be counted, not all have accepted an NDP majority will be the case. Letnick, alongside BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson, has not conceded defeat on the provincial level.
“Things can change,” Letnick said. “This is British Columbia, after all, so we’ll take that little victory here (in Kelowna) and celebrate and keep our fingers crossed that something will change between now and two-and-a-half weeks from now.”
Around the rest of the Okanagan, Liberal incumbents were declared winners of the Penticton and Shuswap ridings. The Boundary-Similkameen riding went to the NDP after several years under Liberal control.
In Vernon-Monashee, results were too close to call on election night, with Liberal incumbent Eric Foster holding a slim, 180 vote lead over NDP challenger Harwinder Sandhu. That riding will be decided once mail-in votes are counted next month.
Due to the pandemic, more British Columbians have decided to vote by mail-in ballot than ever before. Election results won’t be finalized until after Nov. 6. after those mail-in ballots are counted.
Across B.C., a total of 497,900 mail-in ballots were returned to Election BC, as of Friday, Oct. 23. In Kelowna’s three ridings, voters requested 28,674 mail-in ballots, just under one-fifth of the total 156,553 registered voters.
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