Under the right set of circumstances, Penticton might have gone NDP.
There was an Orange Crush across the province and even Liberal-friendly Boundary Similkameen broke tradition and elected an NDPer. In Vernon, it’s still too close to call.
Penticton is also part of the SO-WK federal riding, presently represented by NDPer Richard Cannings.
Toni Boot is likeable, active in the community, was doing a good job as Summerland’s mayor and seemed like the breath of fresh air this riding needed. The NDP was riding high in the polls and B.C. was a textbook example of how to handle the COVID pandemic. Premier John Horgan was showcasing his bench — Adrian Dix, Carole James, Mike Farnworth.
But sadly for Boot, much changed from six months ago.
A staged photo-op at a Summerland dollar store went poorly. By tearing up bandanas in the presence of an unnamed videographer, Boot took the focus off the Lekhi family (who had their home vandalized with hateful graffiti) and put the spotlight on herself.
An open nomination meeting was never held, shutting out humanitarian/intellect Doug Holmes from being allowed the chance to seek the nomination. The party led him on. Although it wasn’t Boot’s call to make, she should have insisted on a nomination contest. Her statement that she “would have won anyways” lacked substance.
In 2018, Boot promised in both a letter to the editor plus at an all-candidates forum that she was committed to the job of mayor of Summerland for four years. This is twice she’s changed her mind. (In 2017, she denied rumours she was going to seek the nomination.) This was highly unfair to her mayoral opponent Janet Peake.
When given the chance at The Herald’s forum to commit to paying for a byelection as Dan Ashton did in 2013, Boot said the Ashton family has more money than she does.
(Annual salary for a rookie MLA: $111,000. Cost of a bylection in Summerland: $15,000.)
She was a much stronger candidate than Tarik Sayeed, who lost to Ashton in 2017.
As I said at the start of the campaign in an interview with CBC, Ashton is tough to beat. Counting the many times he ran for chair of the RDOS (which is voted on by regional directors), you have to go back all the way to the early 1990s to find an election that Ashton lost... and that was to the school board.
So what’s Dan Ashton’s secret?
Ashton, the presumptive winner of Saturday’s election, is a better MLA than he was a mayor.
His record as MLA speaks for itself:
• A long-overdue hospital
• More than 175 units of affordable and supportive housing
• Water twinning system for Garnett Valley in Summerland
• Emergency funding for Trout Creek and West Bench elementary schools
He’s accessible, visible and overall an excellent constituent MLA.
Working in Ashton’s favour was the absence of a Conservative candidate. Although they are a fringe party provincially, some voters and people who have moved here from Alberta are confused by the name BC Liberal and plop their vote with the Conservatives. In Boundary Similkameen, their Conservative candidate scored 11 per cent of the vote.
Due to COVID, Ashton also ran a low-key campaign, not even opening an office.
Kudos to Team Ashton on a clean campaign.
NDP supporters were firing regular cheap shots at the Greens and Ashton on social media. Boot’s campaign manager, in a contradictory letter to the editor, complained about negative advertising. (A leaflet dropped at my home had a back page criticizing Andrew Wilkinson, complete with an unattractive photo of the Liberal leader in black-and-white.)
Tina Lee then rewrote history stating, “Penticton hasn’t had representation in cabinet for more than 30 years.” (She has never heard of Rick Thorpe or Bill Barisoff.)
After being called out by Libertarian Keith MacIntyre, Lee apologized for her oversight.
Third place went to Ted Shumaker. He showed tremendous courage and spirit of democracy by putting his name forward, believing Green supporters deserved the chance to vote for a local candidate. He was a delight. I would love to see him run for city council in the next election. He has my vote.
James Miller is managing editor of The Herald. Opinions in this column are his own. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org