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Updated: Clark chooses Okanagan seat for byelection

Ben Stewart, MLA for Kelowna-Westside, has stepped down to make room for BC Premier Christy Clark to run in a by-election.
Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart announces he will step aside to allow Premier Christy Clark run for his seat in a coming by-election.

It’s official. B.C. Premier Christy Clark has chosen to run for a seat in a byelection in Westside-Kelowna.

MLA Ben Stewart stepped down today (June 5) during a news conference at Quail’s Gate Winery in West Kelowna, clearing the way for Clark. Stewart said he was disappointed when he found out that Clark hadn’t won her own riding after have “campaigned tirelessly across the province.” The Central Okanagan is considered a safe area for the Liberals, especially Westside-Kelowna, where Stewart took 58 per cent of the vote, more than 6,000 votes ahead of the NDP candidate.

“I think it would be incredibly positive for the whole Okanagan to have the premier from here. We are the second fastest growing area in the province and to have the premier represent a riding within the valley would be wonderful,” said Dan Ashton, newly elected Liberal MLA for the Penticton riding. “I look forward to working with her in the Okanagan caucus.”

Clark said that Stewart was one of a number of MLAs who came forward to offer their seat, and cited his hard work, dedication to the riding and strength of character.

“You have decided to put the needs of our province first,” Clark told Stewart. “I am humbled by your act of character.”

Stewart, who was first elected in the 2009, said he won’t be receiving an MLA pension.

“You don’t get a pension until you have served a couple of terms. That’s not why I ran,” said Stewart.

Clark said it had been a long time since B.C. has been served by a premier from outside the Lower Mainland, as she reminisced about Premiers W. A. C. and Bill Bennett, who also held seats in Kelowna ridings.

“Two great leaders that shaped our province, two great leaders that represented this community,” said Clark, who intends to create a second residence in the riding. “I hope with the blessing of the people of Westside-Kelowna, I can be the third premier to bring a vision to B.C. from this community.”

Clark led the Liberals to a surprising come from behind victory in the May 14 provincial election, but she lost her Vancouver-Point Grey riding to NDP candidate David Eby, former head of the B.C. CIvil Liberties Association. While she remains Premier, she must win a seat before she can take her place in the legislature.

No date was given for the byelection, but Clark said it would likely be called in the next week, putting the election date sometime in early to mid July.

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