Kelowna Votes

Kelowna West By-election Part 1: Meet the Candidates

By-election for the dropout Christy Clark’s Kelowna West seat in the BC legislature has been announced

The by-election for the dropout Christy Clark’s Kelowna West seat in the BC legislature has been announced (Feb. 14) and four major candidates have their hat in the ring. Historically a BC Liberal (or other small-c conservative parties like Social Credit) stronghold, this riding’s election could prove interesting given the rise of the Green/NDP government and also the chance that Kelowna (and the Thompson Okanagan region) could put a MLA in the cabinet. We will get into possible result scenarios and specific platform planks in articles to come, but for now, it’s early days so lets get some background on these jabronis.

The Kelowna West Electoral Map from Elections BC

Shelley Cook, BC NDP

Official Website

The only one of the candidates to have run here in the general election last May, Shelley Cook garnered 25.1% of the vote to then-Premiere Christie Clark’s 59%. Her boots-on-the-ground experience and commitment to tackling many of the social and economic ills that befall Kelowna – as the Executive Director of the John Howard Society – put her right at the heart of the NDP’s “principled pragmatism” approach to leadership, and are balanced out by her academic emphasis on the issues. At present she is pursuing her PhD at UBCO in Community, Culture and Global Studies with a focus on the geographies of homelessness.

The NDP’s choice of running Cook very much represent the party’s current concerns, which interestly enough, will be outlined in the BC throne speech the day before the by-election. Concerns which, according to the Georgia Straight should hit on their new actions to tackle speculative investment in housing, to improve the affordability of housing, health care, childcare, and other things, to fight the opioid crisis, and to invest in public services.

Of course, the NDP’s (albeit begrudging) commitment to following through on the Liberals’ unpopular, unnecessary and destructive Site C dam will give many on the left pause about the New Democrats’ commitment to the environment and First Nations’ land rights.

Robert Stupka, BC Green Party

Official Website

The Green Party’s long-standing concerns about climate change might find an audience in Kelowna West in those disappointed in the NDP’s Site C decision, and maybe more after a summer of brutal forest fires and flooding in the Okanagan and other parts of BC.

A builder and engineer who works in Kelowna West (although he does not live there), Robert Stupka is a results-based realist. By stating that he wants to prove a leader can be fiscally conservative, and create policies based on evidence, not politics, he is in line with the BC Green Party’s position of addressing the fallout from the free market rather than some of it’s systemic shortcomings like many idealistic progressives do.

As an active member of the housing and development industry, he states he is qualified to address “growth in the region in a way that reflects the 21st-century needs of the community, including community planning, infrastructure and transportation” and to ride the present Green wave in the province to redress the Liberals’ overemphasis on the economy whereby “what we lost was a balance in terms of social and environmental action at the expense of the economy”, he told the Kelowna Courier.

Ben Stewart, BC Liberal Party

Official Website

The incumbent party and odds-on favourite for Kelowna West, Ben Stewart has promised not to take this historical pattern for granted and says he will prove why you should vote for him. The founder of trail-blazing Quails’ Gate Winery has also spent many years in the legislature and cabinet under Gordon Campbell, and of course we all know his story with the Christy Clark administration. Elected in Westside-Kelowna in 2013, he gave up his seat for Clark after she failed to win her riding of Vancouver-Point Grey. For that gesture, it has been widely argued, he was given a post as the province’s Trade and Investment Commissioner to Asia. Make of that what you will.

Stewart, it appears based on his track record, would represent Kelowna West as the champion of pro-market solutions to growth. Last time around he ran on emphasizing the strengths of the interior’s natural resource development. “It is critical that we continue to address trade barriers and remain competitive both at home and abroad …at a time of instability with softwood lumber, NAFTA, and other trade uncertainties, Kelowna-West requires experienced and qualified leadership.”

A long history in politics also increases the likelihood of less-than-stellar moments, so it bears mentioning that immediately after the 2009 election where he and the Liberals campaigned on a strong economy, once he was appointed as a cabinet minister (in charge of Public Affairs Bureau), Stewart was immediately thrust into the spotlight as allegations against his bureau arose from opponents concerning the suppression of an embarrassing report – that they claim should have been released prior to the election – showing a 50% increase in welfare enrollment in 2009. He maintained he was “following protocol” and that the bureau suppressed positive reports too.

If you are wary of the Clark years, it might comfort you to know that Stewart supported her rival, Kevin Falcon as his pick for party leader. But then again it may not as he did so to boost Falcon’s agenda in “support of deregulation for businesses”. In any case, any Conservatives wary of voting for a party named Liberal, need not worry with this one – he even campaigned (unsuccessfully) to be the next Conservative Party of Canada candidate in the Kelowna-Lake Country riding for the 2006 election.

Kyle Geronazzo, BC Libertarian Party

Official Website

The young political neophyte is already making waves with his “Are you tired of being ripped off by ICBC?” billboard, and we look forward to seeing if his platform extends beyond sloganeering and tackling easy targets like ICBC.

As a libertarian, Kyle Geronazzo’s ICBC (and pretty much all of his party’s) campaign gives voice to the idea that more people need to “stand up to the corporate monopolies maintained by our government, with a special focus on ending the monopoly of ICBC.” There is no mention of ending corporate monopolies outside of the government though. Similarly, health care and education need to be dealt with by adding more “choice” to the field. They believe that by privatizing these institutions, there will be more competition and hence better services. There is not any talk however, of whether there is actually a profit motive for excellence in these areas, or how equality of access and existing standards will be maintained.

On the opioid crisis facing Kelowna West, he has stated his desire to “confront this as a health issue instead of a criminal issue”, placing him perhaps on the socially liberal side, however, the BC Libertarian Party website appears to clarify this further by stating that they would like to “exclude the enforcement of victimless crimes (like drugs) from the provincial Police Services Agreement”, and it’s unclear if they believe the government will incentivize or provide the solutions and understanding to the “health issue” or if it should be left up to individuals and the free market.

So there you have it – a brief background run through and pop-political-philosophy breakdown of the candidates. Of course no knowledge of a candidate is complete without an in-depth look into their platforms, and we look forward to covering and comparing these in the days ahead.

There will be a candidates forum hosted by the Okanagan Young Professionals (OYP) Collective to be held at the Okanagan Innovation Centre theatre located on the main floor at 460 Doyle Ave on Feb. 2.