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Seven Liberals sweep Okanagan

KELOWNA – Despite high profile efforts by a couple of B.C. Conservatives and Green Party candidates, the B.C. Liberals appear to have swept the Okanagan, and are set to send seven MLAs from the region to Victoria.

At the campaign headquarters of Norm Letnick, Liberal candidate in Kelowna-Mission, the atmosphere was one of nervous optimism. Barring a cataclysm, everyone knew their candidate should win but no one wanted to celebrate prematurely.

But within 45 minutes of the polls closing, it was clear the rout was on.

And by 11 p.m. it looked like Letnick, along with fellow Kelowna-area rookie candidates, Ben Stewart in Westside-Kelowna and Steve Thomson in Kelowna-Mission, had taken their ridings with more than 50 per cent of the vote each, mirroring the results of 2005.

“I think Premier Campbell has shown he cares about the people in the Okanagan. He comes here frequently. He listens,” said Letnick of why the Liberals consistently do well here.

Letnick then when on to list some of the projects the Liberal government has brought to the Kelowna area: a new hospital tower, a new cardiac unit, a new medical school, a new floating bridge across Okanagan Lake, two new public schools and an expansion of Highway 33.

“What I think the people have said clearly in this election is, we appreciate the attention,” said Letnick.

The results in the rest of the Okanagan were not quite as decisive as in Kelowna, but still fell in the Liberals' favour.

In Boundary-Similkameen, Liberal John Slater appeared to have overcome the challenge from Joe Cardoso, who turned to the B.C. Conservatives after having the Liberal nomination he won yanked away by party officials. Cardoso’s 20 per cent wasn’t even enough to split the right-wing vote and propel the NDP’s Lakhvinder Jhaj to victory.

In Vernon-Monashee, where the Greens thought they had a chance with Huguette Allen, the Liberals' Eric Foster managed to hold on with almost 38 per cent of the vote by 11 p.m., to Mark Olsen of the NDP’s 31.5 per cent and Allen’s 17 per cent.

In Penticton, Bill Barisoff returns to the legislature with about 44 per cent of the vote, more than 12 per cent better than the NDP’s Cameron Phillips.

Finally, in Shuswap, Health Minister George Abbott was re-elected and had 47 per cent of the vote as of 11 p.m., 17 per cent better than Steve Gunner of the NDP.

The Okanagan used to be solid Social Credit territory. Now it’s solid Liberal territory. Letnick said voters here prefer parties that are more to the right of the political spectrum than to the left.

“If you’re looking for the party that’s going to be more open to generating jobs and business and investment, then that’s usually the centre, right-of-centre party, and that’s the position the BC Liberal party has taken,” he said. “Fundamentally to our core, we believe a strong business climate is the best way to secure jobs and those jobs are the best way to afford to pay for our social programs, not the other way around, where you invest in the social programs first and then hope that we get the jobs. We’ve got to pay the bills first.”

Adrian Nieoczym reports for the Kelowna Capital News.

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