Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton describes waiting for the results of the Liberal party nomination poll on Saturday as an anxious experience.
“You’re on the edge and it took a little while, it went to the third ballot,” said Ashton, who emerged as the B.C. Liberal choice to succeed Bill Barisoff as the party’s Penticton riding candidate in the next provincial election.
Ashton wasn’t the only one having an emotional day on Saturday. Besides the three other candidates waiting on the results — Janice Perrino, Mark Ziebarth and Connie Denesiuk — outgoing MLA Barisoff admitted to mixed feelings.
“I kept telling people I didn’t think it would, but that morning when I got up, I was telling my wife Edna that the days are running out now, I can’t change my mind,” said Barisoff.
It was a close race that began nearly two months ago, when Barisoff announced that after 17 years as MLA, he had chosen not to run in the May 2013 provincial election.
“After 18 years on school board and 17 years here, 35 years is enough of a career,” said Barisoff, adding he was pleased with the calibre of the nominees who came forward to vie for the job.
“We had four superb candidates interested in being MLA for the area. I think it bodes well for the fact that they all genuinely believe in the Liberal party,” said Barisoff, adding that he was also impressed by the number of party members who came out to vote.
“We had over 700 people, comparing with some of the other nominations, that’s a strong turnout,” he said.
“We have some big shoes to fill here with Bill,” said Ashton. “It just shows the calibre of the people and also shows what the party is doing, it’s a real rejuvenation of the party.”
It took three counts of the preferential ballots after the polls closed at 3 p.m. for Ashton to accumulate the required 50 per cent plus one of the votes to claim the victory.
“There were 706 members that voted,” said Randy Kowalchuk, chair of the local party organization. Party members marked the candidates in order of preference, with the lowest finisher being eliminated after each count and the votes redistributed to the remaining candidates.
“It was amazingly close all the way through,” said Kowalchuk, adding there was a recount after the second ballot because the voting was so close. How close he wouldn’t say, explaining that going into the process, all of the candidates asked that they not divulge the voting breakdown.
“We all have to work together and I am very sure we can,” said Ashton. “We all have to pull together. I heard that loud and clear from everybody.”
While Ashton won’t have the advantage of being an incumbent, Barisoff said the riding is still very winnable for the B.C. Liberals. Ashton and the other candidates, he said, already have great name recognition.
“They have a huge step ahead already,” said Barisoff. “In Dan’s case, being the mayor of Penticton, elected for a second term, and he’s been a councillor for years, he’s got name recognition already.”
Ashton will maintain his position as mayor of Penticton for now, but will take a leave of absence when the official campaign begins next spring for the May 14 election. He is standing by his promise that if he is elected to provincial office, he would personally underwrite the cost of a mayoral byelection, up to $35,000, in order to spare the city any costs from his leaving the post midterm.
The next step for Ashton is participating in the 2012 B.C. Liberal convention next weekend, where the candidates will be given information on strategy and tactics to get ready for next year’s election.
“It’s a big learning experience for me. I will know more after the weekend,” said Ashton, adding that he expects there will be lots of preparation work behind the scenes over the intervening months.
“I think the most important thing is you have to respond as well as you can to the constituents of the riding. I have been pretty fortunate to have been rewarded by the constituents for four elections,” was Barisoff’s advice to the new Liberal candidate. “Thanks go to the people that worked so hard at each election and between elections for me too. It doesn’t happen by one person, it happens by a team, almost an army that gets out and make it happen.”