And they’re off…
After months of waiting, a date has finally been set for the Kelowna West byelection—Feb. 14.
While the procrastination of Premier John Horgan has not held back the four candidates in the race—B.C. Liberal Ben Stewart, Shelley Cook of the NDP, B.C. Green Robert Stupka and Libertarian Kyle Geronazzo—from hitting the campaign trail early, it remains to be seen how interested voters will be.
In each of the last four B.C. elections in the riding—three provincial votes and a byelection—less than half the total number of eligible voters turned out to cast a ballot. And two of those votes provided the riding with the opportunity to elect and re-elect a sitting premier.
But that was then and this now.
Christy Clark is long gone from the B.C. political scene, there’s a new NDP government in Victoria and two of the candidates running in this race are recycled from past elections.
Stewart held the riding for two terms before stepping down just weeks after he won for the third time in 2013 to let Clark run in a byelection. She lost her Vancouver-area seat in the 2013 vote to NDP challenger David Eby. In what was then known as Westside-Kelowna, she easily won with 62 per cent of the vote.
Cook, ran against Clark last May but finished a distant second. She says what she learned from that campaign will serve her well this time around.
The history of the riding shows a strong leaning towards right-of-centre candidates, first with the Socreds and then the Liberals easily winning over the years. Prior to Clark, the riding sent former B.C. premiers WAC Bennett and his son Bill to the B.C. Legislature.
But the political landscape in B.C. is different now. The Liberals lost their 16-year grip on power last summer after they and the NDP found themselves virtually deadlocked following the provincial election. B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver played kingmaker, delivering himself and his two other Green MLAs to the NDP in a move to oust the Liberals, who were trying to carry on with a minority government.
Fast forward to today and the current make-up of the B.C. Legislature is even tighter. The NDP and the Liberals have 41 seats each, the Greens have three, the Speaker is an independent and the Kelowna West seat is vacant. The numbers would indicate that while past elections featuring B.C. premiers may have had style, this vote could actually have substance.
The razor-thin margin in Victoria means the NDP, Liberals and even the Greens will throw all they have at the race. The Greens want to build on the momentum they currently have.
Horgan, who finally had to concede the clock was ticking on the deadline to call the Kelowna West vote, has said he wants the winner in the legislature to debate the upcoming B.C. budget in late February. So he called the vote for Valentine’s Day.
He held out as long as he could, ironic given his past complaints about Clark being equally as lethargic about calling byelection votes. But in the end, he knew he had to act.
Whether the voters in Kelowna West, after waiting six months to finally get political representation in Victoria, will show him any love for his Valentines Day gift remains to be seen.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.