Penticton Liberals cast ballots Saturday

Connie Denesiuk, Mark Ziebarth, Janice Perrino and Dan Ashton are hoping to fill the spot being vacated by retiring MLA Bill Barisoff

Four candidates are seeking the nomination for the B.C. Liberals in Penticton.

Four candidates are seeking the nomination for the B.C. Liberals in Penticton.

With less than a week to go before the vote, the four candidates vying for the position of Liberal nominee for the Penticton riding are all feeling confident.

After B.C. Liberal MLA Bill Barisoff announced in late August that he would not be running for re-election in 2013, Connie Denesiuk, Mark Ziebarth, Janice Perrino and Dan Ashton all announced their willingness to stand for the position. On Saturday, Liberal party members will gather at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre to choose which will stand in the next election.

All four are high-profile members of the community, something that didn’t come as a surprise for Denesiuk, a former school trustee and president of the B.C. School Trustees Association.

“I fully expected this would be a highly sought after nomination,” said Denesiuk, who was the first to declare her candidacy, just days after Barisoff made his announcement. “I think this bodes well for the B.C. Liberals, the fact there is significant interest from people who are very involved in our communities, the four candidates who have put their name forward.”

Perrino, Summerland mayor and executive director of the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation, agrees that her competitors present a challenge.

“Given how well known everyone is, how popular everyone is, it’s going to be tough,” said Perrino. “I know them all and I like them all. These are good people. I’ve got my challenge there with them, I hope they are feeling the same way about me.”

All four candidates said they worked hard recruiting new Liberal members to the party. According to Randy Kowalchuk, president of the riding association, the number of members has increased by about 70 per cent to 1,500.

“We are thrilled to have such strong candidates vying for the nomination,” said Kowalchuk. “It’s a grassroots example of the belief in the Liberal party.”

Ziebarth is cautiously confident about  getting the word out to lots of people and said he has provided riding members with a clear choice.  While public service is to the others’ credit, he notes that he is the only person in the race who has not put in government service.

“I’ve done other things. I am the only one who has truly created jobs and added to the economy in that regard by building businesses,” said Ziebarth, noting that the B.C. Liberals are a free enterprise coalition party. “I am the person who wants to increase the size of the economic pie and am most likely able to do so, because I have done it before.”

Ashton, too, said his team has been working hard, recruiting new Liberal party members and getting the word out. He was last to declare, explaining that he wanted to be sure of his support base first.

“I am comfortable with where I am at right now, in the sense of the response that I have got,” said Ashton.

For her part, Denesiuk has been organizing forum-style meetings for party members to meet and question her.

“I have no idea how many people will take advantage of those meetings, but for me, making those times available is important, because I think that sets the tone for even after the election,” said Denesiuk, highlighting the provincial experience and government contacts she developed during her term as BCSTA president. “That’s my style. My style is to be open and collaborative, so that’s why I want to begin the process even now.”

Perrino and Ashton both point to their experience as mayors as evidence of their suitability as a Liberal candidate.

“I know what it means to have involvement with the MLA, understanding what happens at the government level and to be involved with our communities,” said Perrino. “It is absolutely essential that our MLA realizes what happens at the community level.”

“I have been standing on my record of my fiscal prudence and actually getting things done. I’ve kept my promises,” said Ashton.

Teamwork, he said, has been key. “You have to go in and work as a team and you have to be receptive to be able to do that. That’s why it is so important that somebody actually had government experience or some life experience around that, being in governance in a leadership position.”

“If you handicap the race, Connie and I are at a disadvantage when it comes to name brand recognition and pictures in the paper,” said Ziebarth. “But that is not who we are talking to. We are only talking to those Liberal members in the riding.”

Liberal party members go to the polls on Saturday at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. Voting starts about 10:30 a.m., after each of the candidates has given a five-minute speech. The Liberal polls close at 3 p.m. and Kowalchuk expects to name their new candidate just after 4 p.m.