Neufeld and de Jong to contest federal Conservative nomination for SOWK riding
Two Conservatives will vie for the right to represent their party in the next federal election when their riding association holds nomination votes later this month.
Marshall Neufeld from Penticton and Rick de Jong from West Kelowna both filed nomination papers before the June 26 deadline and have been accepted as contestants for the nomination in the new federal riding of South Okanagan West Kootenay (SOWK).
Voting takes place at meetings throughout the riding from July 24 to July 29.
Locations have not yet been confirmed, but the final meeting will be in Penticton, said Al Wait, Conservative nomination committee chair.
Two other potential candidates had intended to run, but decided to withdraw.
Stephen Hill, from Rossland, was the Conservative candidate in the 2011 federal election and he campaigned and ran advertisements this spring. He withdrew because the nomination dates conflicted with plans to move his family and open a new office for his business.
Jason Cox, from Penticton, said in June that he would seek the nomination, but the following week he had second thoughts just before the nomination deadline.
Cox, who is a director in the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and runs several businesses, said he realized he had too many other commitments. He may run in a future election.
The new electoral district of SOWK extends from Penticton to Trail and includes Osoyoos and Oliver.
It roughly overlaps with the current riding of B.C. Southern Interior, which is represented by MP Alex Atamanenko of the NDP.
Atamanenko has announced he is retiring after the current term in office expires.
The new riding loses strong NDP communities in the Kootenays such as Nelson while adding the Conservative stronghold of Penticton.
Neufeld said he is grateful that when Hill and Cox stepped down, they gave him their support.
“I very much appreciate the confidence they’ve shown me through that,” he said.
His rival, de Jong, however, expressed disappointment that there are not more contestants seeking the nomination.
“I’m actually somewhat disappointed that Stephen Hill pulled out of the race,” said de Jong. “I understand his personal pressures and that was the right decision for him, so I’m respectful of his decision, but disappointed. I think the more people in the race, the more vibrant the race is going to be and that helps the party.”
Both contestants said they’ve been busy reaching out to current party members as well as selling new memberships.
The cutoff for new members who can vote for the candidate was last week.
Asked how he would differentiate himself as a candidate, Neufeld noted that he has been involved with the Conservatives for more than a decade and has been active at the federal level.
“I’ve served our community and South Okanagan in many different capacities,” said Neufeld. “I’m proud to live in the riding and I look forward to continuing to live here in the future.”
Neufeld, 32, was born and raised in Penticton. He currently works as a real estate agent.
From 2006 to 2008 he worked in Ottawa as a parliamentary assistant to former MP Stockwell Day.
He has also served on the National Council of the Conservative Party of Canada. He is single.
De Jong said that at age 45, he has more life experience to bring to the job.
“I’ve been married for over 20 years with two young adult children,” he said. “I’ve been working in the riding for the last 22 plus years, so I’m familiar with the whole riding.
“In my volunteer experience, I’m a Rotarian and I’ve been involved chairing Central Okanagan youth soccer, serving as a member of the board of variance and area planning committee, agricultural advisory committee and now as an elected official for the District of West Kelowna, serving as a councillor.”
Although de Jong currently lives outside of SOWK, he said he would be prepared to move into the riding.
“Depending on the outcome of the entire process, I would certainly be prepared to find residence within the riding at the appropriate time,” said de Jong. “I think it’s important that as an elected official, as a local MP, that the MP lives within the riding.”
He added that he would begin looking for a home in the riding if successful in the nomination and would find a home at least by the time he becomes MP, if elected.
De Jong said he would also step down from his position as a West Kelowna councillor before going into a federal election.
“It’s going to be a tough federal election and whoever the candidate is needs to be 100 per cent focused with his or her time and energy,” said de Jong.
He has also been an active board member in Day’s riding association, he said.
Under federal legislation, the next election is scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015. However, under certain circumstances an earlier election can be called.
Both candidates said they have no basis to believe current media speculation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper might call an earlier election.