Waters: Liberals spent big bucks in Kelowna to make ‘safe’ seats safer

The three Liberal incumbents, who easily won held their respective ridings in May's election, outspent their opponents big time.

The Liberals spent big bucks to finance their come-from-behind victory in May’s provincial election.

Figures released this week by Elections B.C. show the three Liberal incumbents in the Central Okanagan—Steve Thomson, Norm Letnick and Ben Stewart—easily outspent their NDP challengers and it paid off. All three easily won their respective ridings, taking more than half the entire votes cast in each riding. Their defeat was never really in the cards.

While Thomson’s campaign in Kelowna-Mission spent the most at $76,268 (compared to the NDP’s Tish Lakes $24,500) and Letnick the second most in Kelowna-Lake Country at $72,411 (compared to the NDP’s Mike Nuyens at $51,553), it was Stewart ($67,424 in Westside-Kelowna compared to NDP challenger Carole Gordon’s $38,341) who paid the biggest price.

That’s because, three weeks after retaining his seat by the largest margin of the three, he gave it up so Premier Christy Clark could run in a byelection.

Despite the fact the three Central Okanagan seats were seen as “safe” for the Liberals, Thomson, Letnick and Stewart were taking no chances in the election given the widespread belief the Liberal government was on its way out prior to the campaign.

But we know what happened to “conventional wisdom” on election night. The Liberals turned it on its head and not only won, they did so with a mandate for another majority government.

Stewart served just one day of his second term in office—he was sworn in and immediately resigned after earlier saying he would do so to let Clark run here. When Clark ran in the byelection, she bettered Stewart’s 58 per cent of the total vote haul by nearly four per cent.

So, did the local Liberals need to spend so much when the chances of electing an NDP MLA in these parts is so remote?

Thomson, Letnick, Stewart and even Clark—who lost her Vancouver-area seat on election night—will tell you over-confidence is a killer when seeking election. Taking the electorate for granted is often a straight path to an incumbent politician having to insert the word “former” in front of that title after the votes are counted.

Given the doom and gloom the Liberals were facing heading into the election, not even the local trio running in “safe” Liberal ridings could count on an automatic return to the Legislature.

But in Stewart’s case, all his hard work and the spending that went along with it eventually went for nought.

I’m told several re-elected MLAs offered to step down for Clark, including Thomson and Letnick. But it was Stewart’s seat the premier chose.

That’s the problem with making such a magnanimous offer—it might just be accepted.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

Kelowna Capital News