Liberal candidate Linda Larson celebrates her victory in the Boundary Similkameen riding Tuesday night as she outdistanced her NDP opponent Colleen Ross. Larson was at Silver Sage Winery in Oliver with supporters. Mark Brett/Penticton Western News

Larson promises to continue with rural school task force

BC Liberal incumbent Linda Larson said she had a list of priorities for the next four years

In what was predicted to be a close election in the Boundary-Similkameen riding, it was incumbent Liberal candidate Linda Larson emerging victorious.

“You know I have worked really hard for four years. I would like to think that some of the work that I have done actually was recognized and did make a difference, right, but when it comes to provincial politics there are always other elements that come into play,” said Larson. “I do understand that and they are more difficult to deal with in a rural setting, like we have 18 communities and so on but I do understand there are other things people think about maybe not just the work I have done.”

With all 95 polls reporting, Larson held 9,174 votes. That is ahead of NDP candidate Colleen Ross of Grand Forks who had 6,941 votes, independent Dr. Peter Entwistle of Oliver who received 3,028 votes and Green Party candidate Vonnie Lavers of Kelowna who had 2,145 votes. That adds up to 21,288 ballots cast out of 40,082 registered voters in Boundary- Similkameen.

It has been 26 years since the riding elected an NDP candidate, at that time it was called Okanagan Boundary. However, in the past two elections the NDP came within 1,400 votes of success. In 2009, the NDP lost by less than 900 votes. Larson said her victory wasn’t just a strong Liberal base in the riding.

“I think it is basic policy. I think people were concerned about what the cost would be associated with an NDP government and people here are very conscious of their pocketbooks. I think that rather than take that risk, they were going to stick with what they knew and they know me. I have worked hard for them for the past four years and I think that has paid off.”

Hot-button issues in this riding ranged from the national park creation to health care and education. Last year with the only high school in Osoyoos set for closure, parents pleaded for support from the province. It wasn’t until the eleventh hour that Larson made an announcement for Rural Education Enhancement funding to save the school, at the same time Liberal cohort Dan Ashton made one in his riding of Penticton saving Trout Creek Elementary School from closing.

Larson said she had a list of priorities for the next four years, but one of the first things she plans to do is to continue on with the rural school task force to recommend changes. She also said despite rumours in the community, there is long-term funding for rural education in the province.

“I am really disappointed that over the last year there has been constant fear-mongering among certain people and saying (Osoyoos Secondary School) is going to be closed. It is not going to be closed. It is fully funded. It has seen an increase in students, there is nothing going to happen to Osoyoos Secondary School. I think the constant saying that there is and scaring people is ridiculous.”

In her concession speech, Ross said she fought a good race but the people in the community decided.

“People are still looking for change, it is just that here in the Boundary-Similkameen they were not ready yet for the kind of love we were pouring and wanted to pour into their lives,” she said.

As provincial election results rolled in Tuesday night, independent candidate Dr. Peter Entwistle was working the emergency room at South Okanagan General Hospital. He said he treated 26 acutely ill patients as it was decided Larson would represent the riding.

“There were a lot of issues we tried to bring out, health care issues in terms of sustainability, emergency services in our hospitals and also the underfunding of acute care beds.”

Entwistle threw his stethoscope into the ring late in the campaign, after he felt frustrated by a lack of attention paid to health care issues in the riding. He is the only addictions specialist practicing in the region and is happy about his decision to run.

“Yes, undoubtedly. It gave people an opportunity to vote outside party lines and it also brought out issues such as health care; available beds, prices, as well as education that perhaps have not been open … It’s something I felt I had a responsibility to do. I’ve got a responsibility to my patients and the communities I work in.”

— With files from Andrea Demeer and Kathleen Saylors/Black Press