Cam Fortems – Kamloops This Week
Kamloops won’t know until Wednesday morning, or maybe for days, whether it remains the provincial bellwether following resounding local B.C. Liberal victories, but an uncertain provincial picture.
The mood at the B.C. Liberal party headquarters at Hotel 540 in downtown Kamloops was a mixture of joy and tentativeness as Todd Stone (Kamloops-South Thompson) and Peter Milobar (Kamloops-North Thompson) won by double-digit margins.
In Stone’s case, he picked up about 58 per cent of the vote in Kamloops-South Thompson, with New Democrat Nancy Bepple and Green Donavan Cavers each at about 20 per cent.
That margin of victory is reminiscent of 2001 in Kamloops. But provincially, Liberals watched results nervously.
As of this writing, at 11:25 p.m. the Liberals were elected or leading in 43 ridings, the NDP in 41 ridings and the Greens in three ridings — setting up the possibility of B.C.’s first minority government since 1952, with the Greens holding the balance of power.
In an interview, Stone — the party’s provincial campaign co-chair — said he spent about four days outside the city during the election as a “cheerleader.
“Those candidates appear to be wining tonight,” said Stone as he watched the see-saw of results around the province.
Stone said internal party polling lined up with public polls.
“In the past 10 days, results tightened dramatically. It was going to be anyone’s contest.”
Milobar, the rookie who will replace retiring Liberal MLA Terry Lake, picked up about 49 per cent of votes. A distant second was New Democrat Barb Nederpel at 30 per cent and Green Dan Hines at 20 per cent.
In his victory speech, Milobar called the party “a room full of community builders.
“That’s the big difference in this.”
The Liberal party was a who’s who of professionals and developers, the latter including Jim Thomson and Casey Van Dongen.
With results running close provincewide, Stone predicted the pair will be part of a Liberal government.
“Kamloops has a tradition of electing really strong MLAs,” Stone told the Liberal crowd, naming Bud Smith, Claude Richmond, Kevin Krueger, outgoing MLA Terry Lake “and now Peter Milobar.
“I’m so proud of this guy. I said we’d do well in Kamloops-North Thompson,” Stone said. “Why? This guy served Kamloops and the region as health board chair for years.”
Stone pledged the two will work together, regardless of electoral boundaries.
Kamloops-Thompson school board trustee Gerald Watson was election-day chairman for Milobar’s campaign, while Henry Pejril was overall campaign manager. Both men said a key difference from the 2013 campaign was the level of interest by volunteers.
“Last campaign they came to us,” said Pejril, who was chairman for Lake’s majority win in 2013. “For a year out, everyone thought the NDP would take it. [This time] we had to go out and find the volunteers. They stepped up and were dedicated. But it wasn’t the same thing.”
Watson, who has been part of many B.C. Liberal campaigns, said this time around “it was the core” who came out to help the Liberals during the campaign.
When the clock strikes midnight, Milobar’s leave from the mayor’s chair is over. Now he must decide whether to resign, which would trigger a byelection, or take a leave and let the city coast without an elected leader for another year and a half.
The newly elected MLA said he is taking his cue from council.
“Let tonight happen,” Milobar said. “We’ve got time to figure it out . . . I’m open to discussion around the council table.”
Ken Christian, the city councillor who has stated publicly he is interested in Milobar’s job as the elected head of the city, said events will unfold in coming days. But he said the decision is Milobar’s to make.
“It’s totally in Peter’s hands, whether he takes a leave or resigns — that’s up to Peter,” Christian said.