How appropriate to hold a byelection on Valentine’s Day for what else is a trip to the polls but a measure of love?
Kelowna West voters will be able to show their love next week and the big question is, who will be their strongest suitor?
Local vintner Ben Stewart has held the seat before, most recently when he won it during the 2013 provincial election only to step aside almost immediately to make way for premier Christy Clark.
Clark had just carried the Liberals to a comeback victory but couldn’t carry her own Vancouver Point Grey seat.
Clark parachuted into Kelowna West and took 62.6 per cent of the vote in the byelection, even more votes than Stewart and then followed her strong showing with 59 per cent in last spring’s provincial election.
But Kelowna West’s love for the premier couldn’t save her from machinations on the larger political stage after she failed to deliver a majority government and then lost power to an NDP-Green partnership.
She resigned as premier and as MLA of Kelowna West last summer, which had the immediate effect of reinforcing the NDP-Green majority — not a popular move with those she left behind.
The question now is can Stewart on Feb. 14 transfer the substantial majority Clark delivered in 2017 into love for his own ticket? Even though he's won the seat twice before, is he yesterday's man?
One major media outlet called Kelowna West a Liberal stronghold but I’m not sure that is still true. It’s been less than a year since the election but that’s an eternity in politics.
During the last byelection, when voters chose Christy Clark as their MLA, she was premier and seemed poised to take it again. Everyone loves a winner.
Stewart can no longer offer immediate access to government should he be elected. Instead, he is likely to toil in backbench obscurity, aligned as his brand is with the former premier.
He stayed neutral during the recent Liberal leadership race and doesn’t seem to have much of a relationship with Andrew Wilkinson, new Liberal party leader.
Both the NDP and the Green Party are very aware of the Liberal vulnerability and have put much more into the race than they might have last time around when Clark seemed insurmountable.
NDP candidate Shelley Cook is the only familiar face from the last election where she managed to snag second, putting up 25 per cent of the vote to Clark’s 59 per cent.
It is a daunting margin of victory but one that may have been built on sand.
When they actually vote, young people tend to vote left and the demographics of the riding are skewing younger all the time, especially in The Nipple (just take a look at the riding map) the little chunk of the riding that juts into downtown Kelowna.
On top of that, Cook can now give Kelowna West voters a direct seat in government, a possibility she could not offer last time.
Even B.C. Green candidate Robert Stupka can offer better access to power if he were to win, joining and strengthening the NDP-Green coalition.
There is, of course, a third possibility (with apologies to Libertarian candidate Kyle Geronazzo and Conservative Mark Thompson).
If you think the NDP-Green alliance is doomed to collapse, then a vote for Stewart could be a bet on him returning to government at some point in the near future. He would be a shoo-in for cabinet.
Unlike in previous elections in the riding, the 2018 Kelowna West byelection is like a box of Valentine’s chocolates - lots of good choices.
— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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