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Penticton candidates gear up for unprecedented B.C. election campaign amid COVID-19 pandemic

Liberal MLA Dan Ashton (left) will face off against Summerland mayor and NDP candidate Toni Boot (right) in Penticton during the fall 2020 provincial election.
Liberal MLA Dan Ashton (left) will face off against Summerland mayor and NDP candidate Toni Boot (right) in Penticton during the fall 2020 provincial election. Facebook

The NDP and Liberal candidates in the Penticton, B.C., riding say this provincial election campaign will be unlike any other, as voters head to the polls Oct. 24 in the midst of a global pandemic.

On Monday, Premier John Horgan announced Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin granted his request to dissolve the legislature, laying the groundwork for B.C.’s 42nd general election.

Penticton Liberal MLA Dan Ashton says he will be seeking a third term in office, but slammed the premier for calling a snap election he described as politically motivated.

Read more: British Columbians heading to the polls on Oct. 24 in fall election

“The NDP, unfortunately, are in the process of playing politics with the people of British Columbia during the worst pandemic, probably the worst time B.C. has seen since the Great Depression,” he said.

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It is the first time in B.C. history that an election will be held during a provincial state of emergency. Recent public opinion polls suggest if an election were held right now, the NDP would win a massive victory.

Click to play video 'Summerland, B.C., mayor claims to have received threats over Confederate flag incident' Summerland, B.C., mayor claims to have received threats over Confederate flag incident
Summerland, B.C., mayor claims to have received threats over Confederate flag incident

Horgan said waiting another 12 months for the fixed election date would be “time wasted” when B.C. needs a secure and stable government to lead British Columbians through the health crisis.

The BC NDP have held a minority government for the past three years, passing legislation through a confidence and supply agreement with the BC Green Party.

“I just think this is wrong. It’s the wrong time; people don’t want an election right now,” Ashton said.

Read more: Why did B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan call an election during a pandemic?

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The long-time Liberal MLA will be facing off against Summerland mayor Toni Boot, who has secured the NDP nomination in Penticton.

She plans to take a leave of absence during the campaign. Boot defended Horgan’s decision to call an early election.

“We are in a pandemic but we are still going to be in a pandemic even if it was at the scheduled time for next year and I know that there is concern about how safe we will be having an election during a pandemic,” Boot said.

“But given the response of Dr. Henry and Adrian Dix and health professionals across Canada and the work that Elections BC has done, I think that we are going to be as safe as we possibly can be.”

There’s already been some controversy over Boot’s nomination, as Summerland councillor Doug Holmes also submitted his nomination papers to run for the NDP in the Penticton riding.

Holmes, however, said Craig Keating, president of the BC NDP, informed him that while his nomination papers were in good standing, the provincial executive would not approve his candidacy application in favour of Boot, who is Black.

Read more: B.C. election 2020: How to vote during a pandemic

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“I was told they wanted Toni Boot to be the candidate in order to promote diversity in the party,” he said in an email.

“I’m disappointed the Provincial Office prevented the constituency association from holding a nomination meeting. A nomination race provides for an exchange of ideas and healthy debate and it allows party members to better know the person they’re choosing as their candidate,” Holmes said.

“I think it’s disrespectful to local party members to deny them the opportunity to choose their own candidate. I’m especially sorry for the people who nominated me as a candidate and who joined the party to support me.”

Click to play video 'Summerland business demands apology from mayor' Summerland business demands apology from mayor
Summerland business demands apology from mayor

In response, Boot says she would have welcomed a nomination meeting, and was not informed by the party executive that she was selected because she is a person of colour.

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“They did not tell me that; that wouldn’t have been fair to other candidates. They have never told me that they have chosen me because of my diversity,” she said.

Boot ran for the NDP nomination in the 2017 election, but was unsuccessful. This year, the mayor gained notoriety after cutting up Confederate flags outside of a local business and spoke out against racism after an Indo-Canadian family was targeted with hateful graffiti.

Read more: Summerland, B.C., mayor claims to have received threats over Confederate flag incident

Both candidates acknowledge traditional campaign tactics such as door-knocking, rallies and in-person debates will likely not happen this election due to the pandemic.

“I’m not going to go knock on anybody doors because I respect it, I don’t want people knocking on my door during a pandemic. Our riding is of senior age, a lot of these people aren’t on Zoom, aren’t talented with social media,” Ashton said.

“Certainly we will be taking advantage as much as possible of the electronics and technology that are available,” Boot added.

Ashton earned 14,470 votes in the 2017 election, or 53 per cent of the vote. Tarik Sayeed of the NDP placed second with 7,874 votes, or 28 per cent, and the BC Greens placed third.

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The BC Greens have not yet announced a candidate in Penticton for the 2020 election.

The riding has been a Liberal strong-hold for decades, and was last held by the NDP under Jim Beattie from 1991-96.