Federal Conservatives pick Neufeld, Liberals nominate Denesiuk
Conservative and Liberal federal parties have selected their candidates for the new riding of South Okanagan West Kootenay (SOWK).
On Saturday, the Conservatives chose Marshall Neufeld, a Penticton real estate agent, with 88 per cent of the vote. The only other contender was Rick de Jong, a West Kelowna councillor.
A total of 649 Conservative party members voted in nomination meetings held in Osoyoos, Castlegar, Grand Forks and Penticton.
In Osoyoos, about 40 people turned out at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall Friday night to hear the candidates speak before casting their votes.
The Liberals chose their candidate, Connie Denesiuk, of Summerland, by acclamation. Denesiuk partners with her husband Bob in a construction business. She served as a school trustee for 19 years.
Summerland is just outside the SOWK boundaries, which extend from Penticton to Trail and include Osoyoos and Oliver.
A handful of Liberals turned out to a nomination meeting Saturday morning in Rossland and about 40 showed up in Penticton in the afternoon to vote on ratifying Denesiuk’s acclamation.
Neufeld, the Conservative, said he was encouraged and humbled by the strong vote in his favour.
“I had been working hard for months on this as had my whole campaign team,” he said. “It feels fantastic to have such a strong level of support from people.”
One woman gave birth on Wednesday, but insisted on coming out to vote, said Neufeld. One man was released from a cancer treatment in hospital in Vancouver, but made sure he didn’t miss the vote. Another man drove back from Vancouver to be there, but arrived two minutes after the polls closed and was unable to vote.
“These people were making such a huge effort,” said Neufeld. “They value their right to vote and it’s just heartwarming to see that.”
Neufeld said he will take a brief pause to return calls, thank volunteers and do up some campaign literature before heading out for almost 15 months of door knocking before the next election, expected in October 2015.
“My experience of working behind the scenes up until now is that the best way to communicate with people is at their doorstep,” said Neufeld, who campaigned for former MP Stockwell Day before working for him in Ottawa as a parliamentary assistant.
“They’ll tell you whatever they think, good or bad,” he said.
In his speech before the votes in Osoyoos, Neufeld acknowledged that SOWK is a difficult riding for the Conservatives to win, but said they can win it. The key, he said, is to have a high voter turnout.
“If there’s a higher turnout, we will be able to win this seat,” said Neufeld. “If there’s too much apathy, we could lose.”
MP Alex Atamanenko of the NDP, who was first elected in 2006, has represented the present electoral district of B.C. Southern Interior.
Atamanenko announced he would be retiring from politics at the end of his current term.
The new riding roughly overlaps the old one.
Neufeld said a good turnout would help the Conservatives because most people in the general population lean somewhat to the Conservatives.
In low turnouts, votes tend to come from the more energized party support base, which in this area might favour the NDP, he said.
Denesiuk, the new Liberal candidate, said she has been taking time to get to know the riding.
“I’ve spent a bit of time in the riding and I’ve taken a few tours,” she said. “I’m anxious to get into the riding again, but this time I won’t have to hand out my business card. I can hand out my federal Liberal candidate cards so people can contact me. “This is a significant step and I look forward to getting into the riding and talking to people one-on-one and with groups of people, finding out what their issues are.”
She plans to travel to Vancouver next week where she’ll have an opportunity to speak with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
Asked what role she’ll play in a riding that has traditionally gone back and forth between Conservatives and NDP, Denesiuk said she knows the history but believes people are disillusioned and want a change.
“I got into this knowing that we have to work hard and will have to work harder than everyone else,” she said. “I wouldn’t be going this path and giving it my all over the next year if I didn’t believe that (election of a Liberal MP) would happen.”