Penticton Liberals buoyed by upset win

Dan Ashton wins Penticton riding for Liberals, beating NDP's Richard Cannings by more than 1,200 votes

Liberal candidate Dan Ashton with daughter Chantal

Liberal candidate Dan Ashton with daughter Chantal

The 2013 election is likely to go down in the record books as one of the most memorable in B.C. history.

For one, it’s the first time a party has won government for a fourth consecutive term since the days of W. A. C. Bennett in the ‘70s. And the B.C. Liberals under Christy Clark did it with all the odds seemingly stacked against them, with poll after poll giving the B.C. NDP a commanding lead.

Clark, who will be the province’s first elected female premier, may have been the only person in the province not stunned by the election results, which completely overturned the predictions and left the Liberals holding 50 seats to the NDP’s 39, along with one independent and one Green, the first ever elected in B.C.

Andre Martin, president of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce and a Liberal supporter, admits to being shocked at the number of seats the Liberals won across the province. But a strong majority government, he said, will be good for business.

“That is going to create some stability for the next four years. I think that is more important to most business people,” said Martin. “The biggest thing for business people is knowing what the future looks like so they can plan to build their businesses.”

At home in the Penticton riding, it was a close race between NDP candidate Dick Cannings and B.C. Liberal Dan Ashton; so close Ashton wasn’t ready to accept the win even after observers had declared the riding for the Liberals.

Preliminary results from Elections B.C. puts Ashton in the lead with 10,489 votes, with Cannings at 9,225 votes. Sean Upshaw (B.C. Conservative) garnered 2,117 votes and Doug Maxwell (B.C. First) finished with 1,057 votes.

“You want to be sure before you say something. We waited and waited, there were still a few polls to come but the gap was widening,” said Ashton, adding that it was a good race, but he is glad it’s over. “I am deeply honoured by the opportunity that has been given me by the citizens. I am not going to let them down.”

Like Ashton, Cannings wasn’t surprised the local race was a close one.

“The big surprise was the provincial outcome. That was the big surprise for everyone. Locally I was fairly confident we had a good shot at it,” said Cannings. “We did everything. We reached out to Liberal voters, we reached out to Green voters, we reached out to people that don’t normally vote. I think we just got caught up in a provincial dynamic, where people were convinced to be afraid of the NDP.”

The premier pointed to the April 29 TV debate as the turning point.

“When the TV debate happened, it was a chance for B.C. to compare and contrast. I think that had an impact on the momentum we picked up in the campaign,” said Clark. “I do think that being clear about where you stand really matters. The risk in telling people where I stood was that people could disagree with me.”

Clark dismisses the polls out of hand, saying that most people can’t answer how they will decide to vote two months in the future.

“Polls do not tell us how they are going to vote. I’ve always been a skeptic of the polls,” said Clark, speaking to a room full of journalists. “You get this stuff for free, so you should take it for what it is worth.”

Clark described having 25 returning MLAs and 25 brand new MLAs as a fantastic balance of fresh eyes and renewal with wisdom and experience. Ashton will be one of those sets of fresh eyes, bringing with him, he said, attributes of a social conscience along with fiscal conservatism and financial responsibility.

“It is a new Liberal party,” said Ashton. “Any organization that gets new blood in it changes. I am quite sure there are going to be changes.”

Clark, however, will not be one of the returning MLAs, having failed to win her own riding of Vancouver-Point Grey.

“I was travelling the entire province. I wasn’t out campaigning in Point Grey as much as I should have,” she said. “I don’t regret anything in the campaign. I know we all worked as hard as we could. It’s always been a swing riding.”

A Liberal MLA must now step down to make room for Clark to run in a byelection. Speculation about where she might land, she said, is premature.

“I haven’t initiated any of those discussions,” she said on Wednesday, noting that they were still waiting for the final results of the Point Grey counts.

Ashton said speculation she may choose Penticton is equally far fetched.

“I’m not even sworn in yet. At least give me that opportunity, let me kiss the cup,” joked Ashton when asked if he would step aside if asked. “I am quite sure there is going to be discussions everywhere on that.”