Dan Ashton takes Penticton riding for BC Liberals

Liberal candidate Dan Ashton declared MLA for Penticton riding after a close race with NDP's Dick Cannings

Dan Ashton started his election night off biting his nails.

It wasn’t, though, because the B.C. Liberal candidate was nervous about the election, or even the results of the hockey game playing on the big-screen TV at the Penticton Ramada Inn, where friends and supporters were gathering to watch the election results come in.

“I’ve got a hangnail I’m trying to get rid of,” said Ashton, who had put a hard day in working the phones and getting the vote out in the riding. It appears he was successful, by 10 p.m. he had been declared winner in the Penticton riding.

Ashton, however, was cautious though happy at the news.

“I sure hope the experts are right,” he said, commenting that only about half of the 184 polls in the riding had reported in so far.

But Ashton’s election mirrored what was happening across the province, with the polls in Penticton closer than expected earlier in the campaign. Ashton was still running neck and neck with NDP candidate Dick Cannings when a Liberal majority had been declared in B.C., with the Liberals leading or elected in 49 ridings and sinking NDP hopes to take the reins of government for the first time in 12 years. From six months before the election, polling had indicated an NDP victory, though their margin narrowed to seven per cent as election day neared.

While NDP leader Adrian Dix took his riding, Vancouver-Kingsway, with more than 50 per cent of the vote, Liberal leader Christy Clark was still fighting for her riding late into the evening.

“I am too old to be surprised by any of this anymore,” said Liberal organizer Mark Ziebarth, speaking of the local race. “I am surprised that the Liberal party, in all 85 ridings, appears to be doing much better than anyone expected.”

In Penticton, Ashton said he knew it was going to be a close vote after the writ had dropped and no Green candidate stepped forward to run in the riding. No vote splitting on the left and B.C. Conservative Sean Upshaw drawing off about 10 per cent of the right-wing vote was definitely a bonus for NDP candidate Dick Cannings.

“I knew it was going to be a close race and it is proving so,” said Ashton. “It’s very early in the evening. It’s a very diverse area. There are going to be ups and downs. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride tonight, but we are trending in the right direction, let’s hope that continues.”

Though Ashton wasn’t ready to accept victory, he was ready to praise his supporters and campaign team. The big difference between running a municipal campaign and a provincial one, he said, is the support.

“You can’t be on top of all of it and that’s why you have a great campaign team, people that know what they are doing,” he said. “Especially for someone like myself that’s never been involved in it. I’ve never had a campaign team other than my kids and myself. It’s not just the campaign, team, everyone has to work together.”

“Winning trips everything,” joked Ziebarth from the background. “I am really proud of Dan for running his campaign his way and going against Mr. Cannings who did it his way. And the voters are speaking. We don’t quite know what they are going to say yet, but I am hoping Dan pulls it out.”

Another supporter on hand was Ashton’s son, Coleton, who seemed more nervous than his father, who he has helped through several provincial campaigns.

“It’s just as nerve wracking, but I am confident of my dad, I know what kind of person he is and how well he will represent the people of this riding,” said the younger Ashton. “It’s goes back and forth, but I have nothing but full belief in my dad. I was campaigning with him at a few events, but nothing compared to what he put in.”

Ashton’s victory means the City of Penticton will have one more election to deal with. Ashton took a leave of absence from his position as mayor to run, and now plans to step down. City council will be meeting in the near future to decide how and when the byelection will be handled, but Ashton has already agreed to pay the costs, up to an amount of $35,000.