Greens, NDP see signs of Liberal weakness in Kelowna West byelection - InfoNews

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Greens, NDP see signs of Liberal weakness in Kelowna West byelection

Ben Stewart couldn't hold back tears as he announced he was giving up his seat in the legislature for Premier Christy Clark, in this 2013 file photo.
January 17, 2018 - 6:30 PM

Both the NDP and Green candidates for the vacant Kelowna West riding sense weakness in the riding for the B.C. Liberals.

Premier Horgan called a byelection today for the seat most recently vacated by former B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

The seat has been vacant since Clark’s surprise resignation in early August and has long been considered a conservative bastion, reliably voting B.C. Liberal since the riding's creation in 2009 when Ben Stewart first took it.

The Westside winemaker won it again in 2013 but stepped aside so the party leader could find the seat she had been denied in her own riding of Point Grey.

Clark easily won the riding in 2013 and again last year but resigned abruptly last summer, a move demanded by some in the Liberal party but one that critics say gave the fledgling NDP/Green coalition some breathing room.

The difference now is that voters in Kelowna West, which includes a chunk of downtown Kelowna, will be returning an MLA that sits outside government if they opt for the status quo.

“Absolutely that makes a difference. The question for Ben Stewart is ‘what are you selling this time around’," Green candidate Robert Stupka said. “It’s anybody’s guess.”

Stupka says Clark’s desperate last-minute embrace of swaths of both the NDP and Green platforms during the political maneuvering after the election shows the Liberals themselves don’t know what they are.

“So what flavour of Liberal am I voting for this time?” the civil engineer said. “It’s hard to get a handle on. They threw it away last time and adopted the Green's policies.”

B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver spent a week in the riding in early January as a signal the party is taking the byelection seriously.

“The most compelling thing we saw was the amount of interest (in us) since we took the balance of power,” Stupka said. “I don’t know if we would have got that amount of attention from the media before.”

NDP candidate Shelley Cook also sees Stewart as vulnerable, and not just because he’s been out of the spotlight for the last four years.

“The demographics are changing,” says Cook, a PhD student and the former executive director of the John Howard Society in Kelowna.

Cook says she’s heard complaints the Liberals have put voters in the riding through four elections in four years. 

“That's frustrating for people,” Cook says.

Of obvious value is her status as candidate for the current government and that has made would-be voters more receptive.

“They’re really happy with what they see. They recognize we have hit the ground running… and are taking a direct interest in this region and this riding,” Cook says. “For all those reasons, people are excited and optimistic and we anticipate some interesting things coming out of this byelection.”

B.C. Liberal candidate Ben Stewart did not get back to us in time to be included in this article.

A win by Stewart would give the Liberals 42 seats, an injury or illness away from toppling the NDP-Green coalition majority of 44.

A win by the NDP’s Cook would give it a one-seat edge over the Liberals, reducing its reliance on the B.C. Greens and giving it more latitude with policy initiatives.

A win by Stupka, on the other hand, would give the Greens four seats, strengthening their hand as power brokers while giving them a foothold in the Interior and bolstering their brand across the province.

Kelowna West voters go to the polls Wednesday Feb. 14 with advance voting available Feb. 6 to 11.


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