Vernon-Monashee seat hangs by a thread: What happened? | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon-Monashee seat hangs by a thread: What happened?

The political future of Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster is currently hanging by less than 200 votes, and while all that may change when thousands of mail in ballots are finally counted, the incumbent Liberal is dramatically different than that of other B.C. Liberal MLAs in the Okanagan valley.

Foster currently has a 183 vote lead on NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu with 35 per cent of the vote over her 34 per cent. Few could have predicted this. While the NDP picked up support around the province, the rest of Kamloops and Okanagan ridings maintained the Liberal dominance, many again winning with more than 50 per cent of the vote. Foster has never been as popular in his riding, but being elected has never been in doubt before.

We won't find out the final results until likely the middle of November, but what happened this time to the three-term incumbent politician?

Rumours have persisted about a whisper campaign to dump Foster the MLA, if not the B.C. Liberals from the seat but Foster puts it squarely on a rising competitor in the riding.

"The B.C. Conservatives in this riding, that's the difference," Foster told "The 15 per cent (of the vote) they took would have given me 50 per cent... that's the difference, no question."

Vernon-Monashee was the only Okanagan seat which ran a B.C. Conservative candidate. Kyle Delfing, so far has 2,830 votes, roughly 15 per cent.

Foster won in 2017 with 47 per cent of the vote over the NDP's 29 per cent, following a pattern from 2013 where he took 46 per cent over the NDP's 34 per cent.

But is Foster's poor performance a simple reflection of more right-wing voters casting their ballots for a party further to the right?

Green Party candidate Keli Westgate says while having a Conservative candidate certainly made a difference, she doesn't believe that's the whole reason.

"It shows that most of the voters didn't want the incumbent back in," Westgate said. "The feeling out there in the riding was that people were dissatisfied with the lack of, or perceived lack of, action from Eric Foster."

Even Delfing, who Foster credits as taking his votes, doesn't believe he was the sole reason Foster did so poorly.

"The Liberals continued to show their true colours this election and through the last three years and the voting public chose to show their disdain for their business-as-usual attitude," Delfing said. "(Voters) started to look for alternatives, whether it be myself, the Greens or the NDP, votes were definitely not placed with the Liberals for more than one reason."

Delfing pointed out that he got 2,800 votes and Foster is currently down about 6,800 votes compared to his 2017 win.

And Foster isn't the only one that is down a considerable amount of votes.

Westgate currently has 3,145, roughly 3,000 less than she got in 2017. 

Westgate said she's counting on mail-in ballots and knows a lot of her supporters did mail-in votes.

"(There is) still almost 9,000 votes to be counted, so we could speculate until the cows come home," she said.

But regardless of the mail-in votes, it appears the Vernon-Monashee seat is no longer the safe Liberal seat it once was.

"I don't believe there is such a thing as a safe seat for any parties," Westgate said. "I believe that every election is a new chance for people to respond to the current situation (and) to the current candidates and we're seeing a shift."

It's hard to separate that current situation from the pandemic and Foster believes one of the reasons for his party's overall poor performance has to do with COVID-19.

"Look around the world, every incumbent government... that has held an election during this pandemic, if they have done a good job, they're been re-elected with the larger majority of the vote," he said.

Foster pointed to recent wins for incumbent governments in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, as well as elections in New Zealand and Australia.

So does this mean he thinks the NDP has done a good job?

"That suggests that I think Bonnie Henry has done an excellent job," he said.

And while his logic makes sense, it doesn't account for the fact other Liberals in Okanagan took their seats with clear wins.

Numbers from Elections B.C. confirm more than 5,000 of the 8,747 postal ballots have been returned for the Vernon-Monashee riding, but there's no indication of how many will be returned. In 2017 around 60 per cent of the 11,000 mail-in votes sent out were returned. This year 720,000 have been mailed out.

For a person whose life may change dramatically if she wins her seat, NDP candidate Harwinder Sandu is remaining rather calm about her prospect of winning. She says she's generally a calm person.

Sandu says it's hard to pinpoint why Foster has taken such a dramatic decline but points to the successes of her party in the last three years.

"What I got during the campaign was a very positive response in peoples' overall satisfaction with the government," she said. "The way they handled the pandemic in addition to the services like health care. Demographics have changed, lots of new young voters."

Sandu has previously run provincially and federally and said she's had a far more positive response in this campaign than the other two. She said voters related to her as a working-class working woman with children. She's almost the antithesis of Eric Foster.

Westgate is hoping for a solid turnout in the mail-in votes, Delfing said he believes his party will get its foot in the door of the legislator at the next election, and Foster and Sandhu have to sit tight and wait it out for another week or so.

However, there are other voting systems currently used in every other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) country in the world except Canada, the U.S and the U.K.

Fair Vote Canada B.C. board member Gisela Ruckert said it's impossible to estimate what the result would be if Vernon-Monashee had a proportional representation system in place, but across the southern Interior, the NDP would have five seats, instead of its three.

Provincially the NDP would have 40 and not 55, the Greens 14 seats and not three, and the Liberals would stay the same at 31. Ruckert said under proportional representation, the Conservatives would have won two seats although, would have most likely run more candidates so ultimately won more seats.

Either way, it would no doubt be less stressful for the two candidates currently with 183 votes between them.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. 

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