B.C.’s Premier Clark wins Kelowna byelection to return to legislature

Clark took more than 60 per cent of the vote on Tuesday night

Chris Stanford/CP

KELOWNA, B.C. – It’s been more than 30 months of campaigning for British Columbia’s Premier Christy Clark since before she was elected the Liberal Party leader in February 2011, but that marathon pace showed signs of slowing Wednesday with her decisive win in a Kelowna byelection.

Clark, who has been in what appeared to be permanent campaign mode, can now really settle in to the business of governing the province.

In a news conference shortly after her convincing Westside-Kelowna byelection win, she said she will go to the legislature in Victoria to ensure her Liberal government passes its current budget. Clark said she also will attend a premier’s conference later this summer as well as lead a trip to Asia.

“It’s all about building the economy,” she said. “All those three things are about making sure we are growing the economy, creating jobs.”

Clark compared her campaigning to running a marathon, where giving up was not an option.

“When you are in the middle of a marathon you don’t stand around and say, ‘Gee, I’m so tired,'” she said. “When you are in the middle of a marathon you say, ‘I have got to keep my energy up. I’ve got to keep working so that I can get to the end and I can succeed.”

Since returning to B.C. politics in February 2011, Clark has campaigned for the Liberal Party Leadership, the Vancouver-Point-Grey byelection, the Harmonized Sales Tax referendum, the provincial election and the Westside-Kelowna byelection.

Clark took more than 60 per cent of the vote in Wednesday’s byelection, compared to less than 30 per cent for her closest rival, New Democrat Carole Gordon.

The premier took over 10,600 votes of the more than 17,000 ballots cast.

At a victory party in Kelowna, Clark thanked those who voted for her and promised to take her constituents concerns, hopes and advice back to the legislature with her.

“You’re coming with me. I am taking the heart, the dreams and the wishes of the people of Westside-Kelowna to Victoria, to work on things together, things that will make this incredible place we’re so blessed to live in even better.”

Clark was largely credited with engineering the surprising come-from-behind Liberal win in May’s provincial election, but she lost her own seat in her Vancouver-Point Grey riding.

Her determined and charismatic campaign style propelled the Liberals to a fourth consecutive mandate, even though pollsters predicted an Opposition New Democrat win.

Former Westside-Kelowna Liberal MLA Ben Stewart stepped aside weeks after the May election, paving the way for Clark to run in the Okanagan city, where two former premiers, W.A.C. Bennett and Bill Bennett were also elected.

Clark called Stewart up to the podium, held his hand and spent several minutes thanking him for helping her to victory.

“Ben Stewart is a man who has delivered for this community and I can tell you that I have never, ever … seen anybody work as hard as Ben Stewart.”

Clark said she plans to purchase a home in Kelowna. She also said having a premier from outside of the Metro Vancouver area offers a broader perspective to politics in British Columbia.

She told a crowd that she intends to work on local Kelowna area issues that include improving area roads, health care and starting to plan for a second bridge across Okanagan Lake.

“And now with four years ahead of me as the Westside-Kelowna MLA I have something to prove, and I am going to prove it,” Clark said. “I am going to work as hard as I can for this community in Westside-Kelowna, because they believe I can deliver for Westside-Kelowna and I’m going to do it.”

Two Kelowna-area Liberal MLAs were also celebrating at Clark’s victory party.

“Thank goodness its done,” said Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick about the overload of political campaigning Clark and the Liberals have participated in recently.

“It’s time for us to move forward with our new premier and our new MLA. Now she’s going to lead from the floor of the legislature.”

Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson said Clark’s return to the legislature adds to the profile of the Okanagan.

“She’s got a passion for the province,” said the Forests Minister. “She’s got a passion for this area.”

Gordon and BC Conservative Party candidate Sean Upshaw were two of seven other candidates challenging Clark for the seat.

Gordon emphasized during the almost month-long campaign that Clark was an outsider, compared to her own four decades in the community.

Clark will now be able to return to the legislature which is in the middle of a rare summer sitting.

The main goal for the legislative session is to pass the Liberal government’s balanced budget that was introduced in February but was not passed before the May election.

“You don’t win elections if you don’t stand for something, if you don’t believe in something and tonight the people of Westside-Kelowna have a affirmed the things that we believe in,” Clark said.

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