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Liberal incumbent Jackie Tegart holds narrow lead over Aaron Sumexheltza of NDP

Initial count is complete, and mail-in ballots will determine who wins in Fraser-Nicola
Fraser-Nicola BC Liberal Party candidate Jackie Tegart with supporters on the Ashcroft bridge, Oct. 21, 2020. Tegart is the frontrunner in the riding after the initial vote count, with mail-in ballots to be counted starting on Nov. 6. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

The race in Fraser-Nicola is still too close to call, with front runner Jackie Tegart (Liberal) holding a 385-vote lead over Aaron Sumexheltza of the BC NDP Party after the initial votes (advance votes and votes cast on election day) were counted.

However, mail-in ballots still need to be counted, a process that will not start until Nov. 6. Some 2,509 voters in Fraser-Nicola requested mail-in ballot packages, and indications are that, province-wide, approximately 69 per cent of mail-in ballot packages have been returned and will be counted.

With all 94 ballot boxes in Fraser-Nicola counted (11,113 ballots in total), the results of the intial count as of 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 25 stand at:

Dennis Adamson (Independent) 381 votes (3.43 per cent)

Mike Bhangu (Independent) 292 votes (2.63 per cent)

Aaron Sumexheltza (BC NDP) 4,318 votes (38.86 per cent)

Jackie Tegart (BC Liberal Party) 4,703 votes (42.32 per cent)

Jonah Timms (BC Green Party) 1,419 votes (12.77 per cent)

Tegart — the incumbent, who first won the seat in 2013 and then retained it in 2017 — says she’s pleased with being the front runner for now, but adds that it’s not appropriate to declare victory until all the votes are counted.

“We know that there are a lot of mail-in votes. Fraser-Nicola has never been a runaway; it’s always been tight, and tonight is no different.”

Speaking of the projected NDP majority government, Tegart says “Overall I think we’ve seen an orange sweep across the province, and we’ll need to sit down and reassess and see what that means to us as a party. I’m excited, if the final count stays as it is now, to be back in Victoria, and I want to say thank you to all the candidates who put their names forward, and all who voted, who made their voices heard.”

Of her immediate plans, as the wait begins for the mail-in ballot count to start, Tegart says “I might have time to sleep through a night. I’ll be winding things up, picking up signs, thanking volunteers, looking forward to what it might look like after the final count. It’s about winding up the campaign and seeing where we are on Nov. 6.”

BC NDP candidate Aaron Sumexheltza spent election night watching the results with a small group of people, some of them part of his campaign team. Acknowledging that he trails Tegart after the initial count, he says he knows he has an uphill battle if he is to win the riding, but says it’s a question now of waiting to see what the final results are, and what the people have decided.

Looking at the overall picture, he says “I’m excited about the NDP majority. I believe that the people of the province have given John Horgan and the NDP a clear mandate.

“People are happy with how the government has managed the pandemic, and the people of B.C. have decided they clearly want John Horgan and the NDP to move us forward for the next four years.”

He notes that it will be important for the NDP to listen to people’s issues: not only in the urban centres but in rural B.C.

“What are the concerns of rural B.C., and what is our vision for the province? If the government does that we’ll be in good shape in the future.”

He says it’s premature to talk about his plans four years from now, as the results from this election are not yet final. However, he intends to remain active in the local community and take some time to be with his wife and their young son.

Sumexheltza also notes that the campaign was a great experience.

“I had a really great team and a lot of amazing volunteers. And it was great to hear the issues that are important to people in Fraser-Nicola. I have the utmost confidence that moving forward, the people here in Fraser-Nicola and beyond have a bright future.”

BC Green Party candidate Jonah Timms says that he learned a lot while on the campaign trail.

“I had a thank you Zoom call with all of my donors and supporters at 8:30 [on election night] to thank them. With COVID-19, we weren’t able to meet face-to-face a lot of the people who’ve supported me.

“We’re a very large geographic riding, and we have a lot of different concerns from town to town. Every time I would go visit a town I would hear the same things: jobs, the economy, health, seniors’ care. But then every town had their thing.”

He says he will take these concerns with him during the between-campaign period. “I will certainly bring those concerns up with my discussions with Green Party leadership to learn how we can make a better platform that addresses more needs of British Columbians for the next election.”

He will also be meeting with Jackie Tegart, after she extended an invitation at the Ashcroft All Candidates Forum, likely speaking about climate change and sustainable jobs.

“I’m excited to see how the how the mail-in ballots turn out, and I’m excited to see how the Greens are able to hold whichever government forms to account in the years to come.”

He hopes to run again, but adds that that obviously depends on the Green Party members. Of the uptick in the Green Party vote in Fraser-Nicola, he says it tells him that in the last 20 years, climate change has become mainstream and everyone is talking about it.

“It’s really encouraging to see our numbers bump up between every election. It tells me also that the Green Party is not a fringe party anymore, it’s quite mainstream. People know generally what we stand for and that’s really encouraging.”

He says that he heard a few times during the campaign that the Green Party was only about climate change. “And I had one person ask me why I was running for the Greens if marijuana was already legalized. So I feel like there are some education components there that we have to work on with the voters, but certainly it shows that people are receiving our message.”

Independent candidate Mike Bhangu sent a picture of him collecting some of his campaign signs on election night to the Hope Standard.

“The campaign isn’t over until the signs are down, so I thought I would get an early start,” he wrote.

“I’m truly grateful to have had the opportunity to compete in this provincial election, and this campaign would not be as successful without all those who showed love and support. Thank you.”

Speaking with the Standard a bit later, Bhangu said that he decided to go out and collect signs instead of watching the live election night coverage, as he wants to think about it when it’s all said and done.

“It was an honour to be in the competition. It was a great experience and I’m truly grateful for all the love and the support while I was out there. I was truly impressed.”

Bhangu says that the projected NDP majority government is “Better than a minority government and then it being jeopardized in a year or two and then another election. So perhaps we’ll have stability for four years. That’s the benefit of a majority government.”

A message of his to voters was about the party system being broken, and he says that resonated with the majority of the people he spoke to.

“I think this is the reason many people just don’t vote. But how do you defeat the machine? I don’t know. Because they are machines, these political parties, when they run campaigns. How do you defeat that as an Independent?”

He doesn’t think he will run again. “There’s certain things about the campaign, campaigning that isn’t right. I don’t want to really experience it again. This is how I feel at the moment, because I do feel that there’s bullying that takes place and it seems to be a part of the culture, if you will, which is wrong.

“It was there when I was running for municipal office. It is an old-school tactic and hopefully we can evolve past it. And I think as soon as we do, we’ll get amazing minds seeking office and true change.”

Dennis Adamson — who also ran as an Independent — told the Standard “I think I did really well. I’m happy I had support from the people I had support from. And for a short time and small budget, I got out there and did my best. I want to thank the people that helped me.” He watched the election night results with several friends, including Sophie Kassian.

“I became a politician because of Walter Kassian, so I like to watch with them.” He adds, “My calculation was hoping [to win]. I’m still waiting for these mail-ins. I haven’t given up.”

He says that he feels “liberated” to have run as an Independent.

“To tell you the truth, when I left the parties there was a weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt freer than I’ve felt for years because suddenly you can just say what you think.” He says that when he ran for the NDP (federally) in 2015 he was told “You say whatever you’re told to say. If you say something different, you will get a call in the middle of the night, telling you you’re not the candidate anymore. I said, call me in the daytime.”

He says he should have quit the provincial NDP before now.

“The NDP is not the NDP, they’re somebody else. It’s not like we left them; they left us years ago. I was involved with the NDP when I was in high school when my friend’s dad was running, so we helped him out and it was fun, it was exciting. But the people picked him, it was a grassroots organization. Somewhere over the years, it has switched. It’s not really a labour party anymore. I don’t know what it is, but they’re doing whatever to get elected.”

With files from Emelie Peacock, Hope Standard.

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Fraser-Nicola BC NDP candidate Aaron Sumexheltza (third from l) with members of the Ashcroft Slough Society, Sept. 9, 2020. After the initial count, the first-time provincial candidate is trailing incumbent Jackie Tegart of the BC Liberal Party. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
Fraser-Nicola Independent candidate Dennis Adamson (second from l) watching the election night results with friends, including Sophie Kassian (l). (Photo credit: Submitted)
Fraser-Nicola Independent candidate Miek Bhangu spent election night collecting campaign signs. (Photo credit: Submitted)
Fraser-Nicola Green Party candidate Jonah Timms (front) with supporters in Clinton during the 2020 provincial election campaign. The first-time provincial candidate captured 12.77 per cent of the initial votes counted on Oct. 24. (Photo credit: Submitted)