Premier Christy Clark is following in some historic footsteps by seeking an MLA’s seat in the Kelowna area.
The premier announced on Wednesday afternoon that she would seek the Westside-Kelowna seat, which was won by Ben Stewart in the May 14 election. Stewart, a former minister of agriculture and current minister of citizens’ services, will resign his seat. He is likely best-known as one of the owners of Quail’s Gate Winery in West Kelowna.
Fittingly, Clark made the announcement at the winery. which is situated in one of the most beautiful locales in B.C., high above Okanagan Lake and surrounded by vineyards. I’ve toured the winery and eaten at its fine restaurant, and highly recommend a visit there.
Clark is far from being the first premier to seek a seat in a byelection. While it has been a longtime since a sitting premier needed to look for another seat because of a defeat in a general election. Just two years ago, Clark had to run in a byelection in Vancouver-Point Grey to get a seat in the House. In that case, her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, had resigned his seat.
In the 1970s, both Dave Barrett and Bill Bennett needed to run in byelections to get into the House. Barrett, who was the sitting premier at the time, was defeated in his Coquitlam seat in the 1975 election, which also saw his NDP government go down. He ran in Vancouver East to get into the House and continue as leader of the opposition. A few years earlier, Bill Bennett ran in the South Okanagan byelection, after his father W.A.C. Bennett had resigned his seat. Bennett was in the process of running to become Social Credit leader, and on winning the leadership he became Leader of the Opposition.
There are a number of cases in B.C. history where sitting premiers sought other seats after losing in a general election. One of the best-known examples was in the 1924 election. Premier John Oliver’s Liberal Party won the election, but he lost his seat. Interestingly, the leaders of the opposition Conservative and Provincial parties also lost in the election, so no party leader made it into the House.
Oliver, a Delta farmer who at one time represented Langley (which was part of the Delta riding), ended up running in a byelection in Nelson and winning that seat, which he held until his death in 1927.
Clark may also be wishing to tap into some of the powerful Kelowna connections to successful free enterprise governments. W.A.C. Bennett. who was South Okanagan MLA for all but a very short period from 1941 to 1973, served as premier for 20 years and is widely-credited as B.C.’s greatest premier and the foremost builder of modern British Columbia.
His son Bill, who was premier from 1975 to 1986, was also a very strong leader who achieved a great deal in his three terms as premier. Arguably, he had to govern in more difficult circumstances than his father did, but history has shown that he made a lot of very good decisions. One of the most significant would be Vancouver hosting Expo 86, but others include the building of the first SkyTrain line, the construction of the Coquihalla Highway and its connectors and a balancing of economic development measures with the growing social needs of B.C. citizens.
Bill Bennett’s son Brad played a prominent role in Clark’s campaign this year. While he has thus far shown no interest in seeking office, the third generation of the Kelowna Bennetts is a successful business person and Clark clearly appreciates his perspective.