Late last month, Premier John Horgan said he planned to call the Kelowna West byelection early this month.
But the candidates vying to replace the now departed former MLA, Christy Clark, are not waiting for Horgan to act. For all intents and purposes, the campaign is already underway.
The candidates—Liberal Ben Stewart, B.C. Green Robert Stupka, B.C. Libertarian Kyle Geronazzo and Shelley Cook of the NDP—are out trolling for votes as we speak, knocking on doors and bringing in party heavy-hitters to support them.
Last week B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver was here to support Stupka and said he’ll be back many times between now and voting day, Liberal leadership candidate Micheal Lee was out door-knocking with Stewart on the weekend and Horgan showed up at Cook’s nomination meeting rallying the troops and talking like the NDP had already won the seat.
There’s no question Kelowna West will be a hotly contested race.
And, with the numbers in the B.C. Legislature so tight, all the parties are expected to throw everything they’ve got at the byelection.
For the Liberals, who have history on their side when it comes to winning in the riding, retaining the seat will reunite Stewart with his former legislative colleagues Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson and Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick. Stewart was the MLA for the riding from 2009 to 2013, when he stepped down to let Clark run in a byelection after she lost her Vancouver-area seat in the 2013 provincial election.
But Cook, who ran second to Clark in the riding in last May’s provincial vote, has her sights going one better this time and giving the NDP a one-seat edge over the Liberals in the legislature. Horgan has made it clear, he wants that extra vote when it comes to passing the upcoming provincial budget next month.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Greens—who are keeping the NDP in power through an agreement Horgan and Weaver struck last summer, are looking to build on the momentum they created in May’s election. Weaver is touting the influence Stupka would have in Victoria should he be elected given the Greens’ support of the NDP.
There’s no doubt B.C political eyes will be on Kelowna West once Horgan gets around to announcing the date of the byelection—a move that could come any day now.
With the exception of the Libertarian, three of the four candidates are carrying heavy but important loads for their respective parties. The Kelowna West byelection has meaning.
Currently the Liberals and NDP have 41 MLAs each, the Greens have three and speaker Darryl Plecas sits as an independent after being tossed out of the Liberal caucus. That leaves Kelowna West as the one vacancy—the result of Clark’s resignation last August.
After leaving the riding to sit without a political representative for the last five months, voters in Kelowna West can expect plenty of focus from, not only the NDP government, but the Opposition Liberals and the B.C. Greens as well.
After all, this time, there’s plenty at stake.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.