Waters: Plenty at stake in Kelowna West vote

Liberal, Green and NDPer can all make a case for influence they could wield

Next Wednesday, for the fourth time in less than five years, Kelowna West voters will head to the polls in a provincial (by)election.

Like many things on the west side of Okanagan Lake—not withstanding the fact downtown Kelowna is part of the riding—things are done differently over there. Just think back to the divisive incorporation of the West Kelonwa vote, the battle over a new name for the municipality or the failed bid to build a city hall.

After the 2013 provincial election, in which B.C. Liberal Ben Stewart was re-elected, he stepped down to let then-party leader Christy Clark run in a byelection. Four years later, after retaining her seat in the provincial election, Clark stepped down when her government got turfed in a non-confidence vote, prompting next week’s byelection.

And to make matters more interesting, Stewart is back running to replace Clark, as is the woman Clark beat out for the MLA’s job last May, Shelley Cook of the NDP.

But the political landscape in B.C. has changed dramatically since both Stewart’s and Cook’s last run for office. The NDP, supported by the B.C. Greens, are now in power and it’s the B.C. Liberals who are the Opposition party in Victoria.

Locally, riding on the momentum of the B.C. Greens electing not one but three MLAs to the legislature last May, Kelowna West B.C. Green candidate Robert Stupka is making one of the strongest pushes for election the riding has seen by a Green since…well…ever.

The byelection field is rounded out by Libertarian Kyle Geronazzo and B.C. Conservative Mark Thompson.

But Stewart, Cook and Stupka can all make a legitimate case to voters for their support.

In Stewart’s case, he has history on his side. And experience.

Historically, the riding that now calls itself Kelowna West has been a right-of-centre stronghold for many years. It was Social Credit central when WAC Bennett and his son Bill were B.C. premiers and under the Liberals was basically a safe-seat. He won handily, twice, as did Clark. He’s been there, done that.

But, as Cook points out, she’s now the one running for the party in power. Even as a backbencher, with the numbers in Victoria so tight, her voice will be heard at an NDP caucus table where Premier John Horgan needs all the support he can muster to stay in power.

And then there’s Stupka, who will tell you he will have the most influence of the three if elected over the veteran Stewart and the government candidate Cook. His three elected B.C. Green colleagues are what stands currently between a fifth provincial election in the riding in just under five years and the possible continuation of the first NDP government in B.C. since 2001.

As has been seen in the last eight months, three is a mighty big number when it comes to getting the NDP to squint through green-tinted glasses. Of course, the B.C. Greens have not got all they wanted from the NDP, but Horgan knows they are the lynch pin to him keeping his job without going back to the polls before 2021.

So, with so much on the line, the upcoming Kelowna West byelection does hold some significance.

The hope now is voters, no matter who they support, will turn out in large numbers to let their voices be heard Feb. 14.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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