Liberal candidate Bill Bennett has cruised to a win for the fourth straight time.
The former Liberal cabinet minster had won 63 per cent of the vote as The Free Press went to print on Tuesday night.
The NDP’s Norma Blissett had 36 per cent of the vote in the two-horse race.
Bennett has held the Kootenay East riding since 2001 when the BC Liberals took power. His party also formed another majority government, despite broad polling throughout the election campaign and before that suggested the NDP would form a majority.
At his party’s celebration at the Heritage Inn in Cranbrook Tuesday night, Bennett said he was happy to hear that his party was poised to take a majority lead in the province.
“I never believed that we had no chance,” Bennett said. “I always believed we had a good chance at winning.”
About his own victory in the riding Bennett echoed the sentiment.
“I’m really, really grateful that I won,” Bennett said. “I have a lot of support in Kootenay East. I know people personally. It’s not like a big city riding where you don’t know your constituents.”
Bennett is currently Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development and has served as a cabinet minister under both Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark.
Bennett thanked those who voted for him in the Elk Valley. “I’m particularly humbled by the support I received in the Elk Valley today, because I know that there were a lot of union workers in the coal industry and the forestry industry whose union leaders were telling them to vote NDP. I know this,” he said.
“We ran into it a lot over the last 28 days, and despite that they came out to the polls, them and their families, and they voted for me. What that means to me is that it generates a trust between us. I need to perform for them. I need to represent them vigorously and effectively as I can. It means I have to fight against a park in the Flathead. It means that I have to stand up for coal mining and coal mine workers. It means that I have to support and represent the values of the people in the whole riding and they’re not that much different in the Elk Valley then they are here.
“This is rural Canada. This is not downtown Vancouver. You have rifles in the backs of trucks and people driving around with dogs barking, they’re on their way out hunting and that’s the way we live here.”
Bennett is an avid hunter and fisherman. Before moving to Cranbrook, he owned and operated wilderness fishing and hunting lodges in the Northwest Territories for 15 years.
The only other candidate, Norma Blissett, is a high school teacher at Cranbrook’s Mount Baker Secondary. She has also worked in the forestry industry. She serves as president of Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook.
She was surrounded by supporters chanting her name at Cranbrook pub Dee Dee Magee’s as the election was called for Bennett Tuesday night.
“I thought we had a good chance, but obviously the voters have spoken and they wanted Mr. Bennett back,” she said.
Blissett said she has been campaigning door-to-door since February, “and we’ve had other people helping in the past month, and we’ve been phoning and canvassing, and we had some good communications, so I think we ran a good campaign. It’s just the will of the people; they really wanted to support Mr. Bennett and the B.C. Liberals.
Her campaign team was hard-working and dedicated, Blissett went on.
“I have had wonderful support. We have a great team of volunteers… they came through big time for me. Between all the scrutineers we had today, and people manning the office, and the sign crew did a fantastic job. So I am so pleased with all the volunteers,” she said.
Like many people in British Columbia, Blissett said she was surprised the B.C. Liberals won the province.
“The last polling I was looking at on the weekend showed us being nine points ahead,” Blissett said. “I knew this would be a tough riding, Kootenay East would be hard, but I thought we had a shot.
“And I felt confident that we would be forming government, so I am quite surprised.”
Kootenay East has now had four liberal MLAs, six NDP and three Social Credit.