What does it mean for Kamloops if Todd Stone becomes the leader of the opposition? | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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What does it mean for Kamloops if Todd Stone becomes the leader of the opposition?

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October 13, 2017 - 11:34 AM

KAMLOOPS - Kamloops MLA Todd Stone is running to become the next leader of the B.C. Liberal Party. If he should win — and at least one pundit thinks he has a pretty good chance — what will it mean for his hometown if he has to broaden his focus to the entire province?

Stewart Young, the mayor of Langford on south Vancouver Island, has more experience than most with this issue. Premier John Horgan is the NDP MLA for the riding of Langford-Juan De Fuca and represented those constituents while he served as leader of the opposition.

In Young's experience the province's politicians, in particular Stone and Horgan, have been able to put partisanship aside and do what's best for the community.

"When I would talk to Todd, and he was a Kamloops MLA and Transportation Minister, he still had a lot of time for me when I was talking about the needs in our community," he says. "I would talk to John and say we need a new road or we need to fix this... but regardless of political boundaries or who's NDP and who's Liberal, you're actually elected by the people. So I will give credit to both John and Todd because they actually would pick up the phone when I did phone them."

Young says as the community that was home to the opposition leader he never felt he had to work harder to have his concerns heard and never felt he was treated worse because of the connection to Horgan. Though he does admit he shared those worries at the beginning.

"The biggest fear is you tell somebody in opposition 'hey I need this and I need this' then they go out there and really hammer on the government and make it a negative," he says. "I think there was some common sense ground there between the two and they could look at a need of a community irregardless of the representative in power."

So what will the local impact be if Stone wins the Liberal leadership race and one day goes on to become premier? It can be a godsend according to the West Kelowna mayor Doug Findlater.

Former Premier Christy Clark was the MLA for the riding of Kelowna West, which includes the City of West Kelowna.

"We had a deep lack of infrastructure and were way behind on some things," Findlater says. "Having a premier (as MLA) we got a lot of things sorted out where we weren't getting anywhere before. We were able to attract some grants, the largest one being $41 million for a water treatment plant for half the community."

Findlater says having the Premier as his community's MLA also played a major role in improvements to Westside Road, a key piece of infrastructure that had been neglected by the province before Clark took over.

"That's a $40 million project and there's been big improvements there," he says. "We've had funding for other road repairs, KidSport, water treatment plant, playgrounds and so on, all that great stuff."

Findlater admits there has been one glaring downside to having your MLA serve as Premier, and they are living through it now. Since Clark resigned as Premier and stepped down as MLA, he says it's been a challenge to deal with some of the smaller constituency issues.

"If someone might have an issue with child welfare or Work Safe B.C. or something you might normally go into an MLA's office, we don't have that," he says. "Obviously we can go a few months without political representation in the sense that we don't have an MLA... but I really regret having that MLA office vacated rather suddenly."

Before Kamloops finds out whether it will be good for the Tournament Capital to have the leader of the opposition as MLA, Stone has to win the leadership race.

Vancouver Sun political columnist Vaughn Palmer says Stone is certainly one of the front-runners.

"He and Andrew Wilkinson are probably the best organized, but it's a long run," Palmer says. 

"Stone has already thrown down a pretty big challenge to the party saying they shouldn't accept taxpayer funding," he says. "He's turning his back — if he becomes leader and he sticks to that promise — on millions of dollars. That's a big risk because you'll have to go out and raise the balance under this new donation limit."

Stone's decision to start his campaign announcement in Surrey was a good move, Palmer says, as it shows he knows that is region where the Liberals have the most work to do.

"The party's very strong in the Interior and the north," says Palmer. "But if he becomes leader of the opposition, if they are going to work their way back into power, they have to look at the nine seats they lost to the NDP in and around Metro Vancouver and find ways to win them back and that is a big challenge."

Palmer says the biggest obstacle for Stone could be his record as Transportation Minister as there were some initiatives he took on but never completed.

"He promised to deal with the tolling policy but didn't do it," he says. "He presided over the referendum for funding for transportation services in Metro Vancouver and that wasn't well received. He had up and downs on the ferry service.

"So I think that raises questions about his ability to lead and govern, though I think his opponents in the leadership race will be careful how they say it because you don't want to divide the party and he might win."

The Liberal leadership vote is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2018, and the next provincial election will be in October of 2021.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Mike McDonald or call 250-819-3723 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.

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