Penticton’s Mayor Dan Ashton has joined the ranks of those seeking to replace Bill Barisoff as the provincial liberal candidate for the Penticton riding and eventually MLA.
“I am stepping forward today seeking not only the nomination of the B.C. Liberal Party but the position of Member of the Legislative Assembly with a commitment to the citizens of this riding,” said Ashton.
Highlighting his experience on city council, having been first elected in 1999 as a councillor and now in his second term as mayor and chair of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, Ashton said there have been substantial changes made to both organizations during his leadership, “all of which have been made for the benefit of the citizens.”
“Although there have been a few stumbles, there is not a community or a regional district better positioned as an organization to take on future challenges better than Penticton or the RDOS,” said Ashton.
Stumbles include the controversy surrounding the sale of nine city-owned lots on Eckhardt Avenue to a developer who promised to build a dormitory on the property. That deal fell through after fraud charges surfaced against the developer in connection with another of his business deals, leaving unpaid contractors and the city with $1.6 million in liens against the property.
Ashton said that while some blame him and council for moving too fast, they did due diligence and were working hard to get new construction and jobs going in the city.
“If people want to hold that against me, there is nothing I can do,” said Ashton. “We went out there, we tried, we did our best and now we are backing away with the least collateral damage to the citizens. We are making sure of that.”
Ashton, and the council of the day, also found themselves in hot water as they implemented the recommendations of the core services review in 2010. Though it cost jobs, Ashton defends it by saying that it was the best thing for the city at the time.
“It was incredibly unfortunate that some people lost their positions over it. We’re no different from any other private company in Penticton during those times that had to downsize,” said Ashton. “The city is a stronger entity and that is more important to carry on.”
For many of the changes Ashton refers to in his statement, like holding municipal tax increases at zero and efficiencies at the regional district and city, credit has to shared among the council, board and staff members of the organizations. Ashton said, however, that collaboration is one of his key skills, a trait that he plans to bring with him to the B.C. Liberal party.
“None of this could have been accomplished without working together and being collaborative,” said Ashton. “I am a well-known fiscal conservative and no municipality can beat what the City of Penticton has done. We’re providing the same services, we just work harder and smarter.”
Ashton will be competing with Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino, former school trustee Connie Denesiuk and businessman Mark Ziebarth in what will likely be a hotly contested race to win the Liberal nomination.
“There are three other very good candidates plus myself involved in this. I am hoping that the best rises to the top. I am fully supportive of who gets there and hope that other candidates have the same opinion,” said Ashton. “I personally feel the Liberal party has four very good choices for this riding.”
Like Perrino, Ashton has listed expansion of Penticton Regional Hospital as one of the key planks in his platform. He’s not worried, however, that their campaigns will be too similar.
“In my opinion, that should be the top priority of all candidates,” he said. “Health care is so important to this area. The hospital has served these communities incredibly well, but it is time now that it gets refurbished.”
If selected as the Liberal candidate, Ashton said he will remain in his various positions until the writ is dropped in April 2013 and then take a leave of absence to campaign. If elected, Ashton will resign, but, he plans to stay true to his fiscal principals and underwrite the cost of a byelection for mayor, with up to $35,000 of his personal funds, ensuring the city will not have an additional cost.
The Penticton riding’s Liberal organization will be holding their nomination meeting on Oct. 20. The next provincial election occurs in May 2013.