NDP leader John Horgan has announced that an election will take place on Oct. 24, meaning voters in Fraser-Nicola will have one month to decide who they want to represent them in the B.C. legislature.
Three parties have confirmed their Fraser-Nicola candidates. The BC Liberal Party is fielding incumbent Jackie Tegart, the BC NDP are running Aaron Sumexheltza, and the BC Green Party has announced Jonah Timms as their candidate. They will need to reach voters safely while COVID-19 numbers rise in the province and restrictions on large gatherings remain in place.
Jackie Tegart confirmed on Sept. 21 that she will be the candidate for the B.C. Liberal Party again, having held the riding through two successive elections since 2013. While she says her team has been preparing for the possibility of an election, she is not happy with what she calls Horgan’s decision to politicize the pandemic.
“All three parties made a conscious decision that this was too important to play politics with, until John Horgan decided to call an election. He took our goodwill and he has used it against us in politicizing and choosing to go early to the polls.”
The focus of the campaign, Tegart says, will be on how to keep volunteers and people in the riding safe, and will likely feature more print and online communications as opposed to door knocking and large gatherings.
COVID-19 has to be top of mind, she adds, assuring constituents that no matter who is in government the management of the pandemic will proceed with consistency under the leadership of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “The top priority is how to flatten the curve,” Tegart says, adding that economic recovery will be a big topic discussed during the campaign.
“We have a long winter coming up, and we have some small businesses that are going to be making some very, very difficult decisions at the end of this month. And we also know that small businesses are the job generators in B.C.”
The NDP is fielding Aaron Sumexheltza as their candidate in Fraser-Nicola. Sumexheltza is a lawyer with his own practice, and also works part-time for the Nicola Valley Indigenous Justice Centre. He is a councillor for the Lower Nicola Band, as well as a former chief of the band.
“A lot of people are suffering now, and it’s really important that we support businesses and opportunities where we can create employment for people,” he told Black Press before the election was called. “I support moving ahead with major infrastructure projects so that people in our communities can benefit from that work.”
Sumexheltza told Black Press that he is proud of the work that Horgan’s government has done on managing the COVID-19 crisis. “I believe that, especially where we have a lot of people worried about their health and future, we need to continue investing in health care and make sure we do that in small and rural communities, not just the urban centres.”
Sumexheltza’s nomination has not been without controversy, as all 13 members of the local NDP riding association resigned following the announcement that he would be the NDP candidate in the riding. The association claims the party ignored the wishes of local members and set too short a timeline for the nomination process, which prevented others from running against Sumexheltza.
The B.C. Greens are running candidate Jonah Timms. A resident of Lillooet, Timms is a First Nations Advisor with the B.C. government and has a background in environmental sustainability. He said he was stunned by the Premier’s announcement Monday.
“[An election] shouldn’t be what our government, and especially our ministers of health and education, should be concerning themselves with right now,” he says. “They should be helping British Columbians stay healthy and well, and they should be working on maintaining safety in our schools for our students.”
This will be the 26-year-old’s first election as a candidate – he had a background volunteering for the Young BC Greens – and he aims to reach voters through radio and newspaper ads and Zoom calls, connecting with people in all of the riding’s communities. Key issues to talk with constituents about include the pandemic and the need for a green recovery, as well as making sure small towns remain “a vibrant place to raise families and age in dignity.”
“So we want to maintain our health care services that we have in the small communities and build on them. And we want to make sure that the families who do have kids here have excellent education for their kids when they go to school here,” he says. This also includes building up parks, protected areas, and trails and providing sustainable jobs in small towns.
“I am hoping to set down roots [in Lillooet] as I now work to bring government, First Nations, and industry together to come to solutions on balancing forestry practices, conservation, and ensuring that small communities continue to be an integral part of the mosaic of British Columbia,” he says.
Fraser-Nicola was formed in 2009 from the old Yale-Lillooet riding, which (apart from 2001–2005) elected the NDP’s Harry Lali from 1991 to 2013. In 2013 the Liberals took Fraser-Nicola, and re-took it in 2017, with Tegart as their candidate both times. Both races were tight, with Tegart beating second-place Lali by 614 votes in 2013 and 524 votes in 2017. As a result, Fraser-Nicola is widely viewed as a swing riding which could go to either the Liberals or the NDP.
The BC Ecosocialists, a new party formed just under a year ago, stated via email that they “fully intend” to field a candidate in Fraser-Nicola. The BC Conservatives did not run a candidate in the riding in 2017, but the Social Credit Party did, with candidate Michael Henshall picking up 596 votes, or 3.78 per cent of the votes cast.
With files from Barbara Roden