While the Liberals pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory to hold on to power in B.C. election Tuesday night, what came as far less of a surprise was the seemingly easy re-election of the Central Okanagan’s three incumbent Liberal MLAs Steve Thomson, Norm Letnick and Ben Stewart.
The trio, first elected four years ago and who dubbed themselves Team Okanagan during their first term in the legislature because of their close working relationship and their team approach to lobbying for provincial funding for local projects, easily held on to their seats.
Late last night, preliminary numbers showed Stewart (Westside-Kelowna) garnered 59 per cent of the vote in his riding, Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country) 57 per cent in his riding and Thomson (Kelowna-Mission) 55 per cent in his riding.
While all incumbents were expected to win re-election given the historic support voters have always given right-of-centre party candidates here, all three men said they took nothing for granted in the campaign.
“It’s a privilege to serve and a privilege to be re-elected,” said Letnick. “I won the election by 5,000 votes (in 2009) but the day after, I felt like I was one vote behind. That’s how I ran in this campaign.”
Stewart called Tuesday night’s election “incredible,” not only here but across the province.
Thomson said he felt like a member of the Boston Bruins hockey team, which came back to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime in game seven of their Stanley Cup first round playoff series on Monday after being down three goals in the third period.
Earlier, Thomson, B.C.’s minster of forests, lands and natural resource operations, admitted he had a “nervous pit in his stomach” heading into election night.
But he credited his campaign team in Kelowna-Mission with getting the vote out for him.
Stewart, the province’s citizens’ services minister, said he, Letnick and Thomson all plan to pick up where they left off when the campaign started in terms of continuing to work for their constituents and the entire Central Okanagan.
He called the campaign an opportunity to reconnect with constituents and hear their concerns directly at the doorstep.
For Letnick, that means improving his own performance as an MLA after hearing some criticism during the campaign.
“I’m a perfectionist and I always want to do better,” said the man Clark tabbed as her agriculture minister two years ago.
But more than their own success Tuesday night, the local trio were equally thrilled that their party defied what all public opinion polls were predicting and will now return to the legislature with a majority government.
Thomson, Letnick and Stewart all credited party leader Christy Clark with the Liberal’s win, saying she was instrumental in making it happen.
“That lady gets up every the morning and she works her butt off for B.C.,” said Stewart. “And not just during the campaign.”
Letnick said while Clark inherited a team of MLAs when she took over the reigns of the Liberal government two years ago from former premier Gordon Campbell, this time she will return to Victoria with her own team.
Preliminary numbers showed Clark may have even increased her party’s number of MLAs from the 45 the Liberals had when the campaign started four weeks ago.
Heading into the campaign, the Liberals trailed the NDP in public opinion polls by a whopping 20 points, a seemingly insurmountable lead. By election eve, the gap had narrowed to six points, said pollsters but many still expected an NDP win.
Voters, however, proved them wrong.
And for the local Liberal trio and the hundreds of supporters who showed up to celebrate with them at the Capri Hotel in Kelowna Tuesday night, they could not have been happier.
“Some people will sleep tonight with tears and others with smiles,” said Letnick as he addressed the crowd.
For team Okanagan, it was all smiles on election night.