Toni Boot cast her ballot this week in a historic pandemic election.
The Summerland, B.C., mayor is taking a break from municipal politics to represent the NDP in the Penticton riding.
Boot is the city’s first Black mayor, and she recently found herself in the national spotlight after cutting up Confederate flag bandanas in front of a local Dollar Store.
“It’s about time I spoke up against this kind of behaviour,” she said of the July incident.
Boot says she would bring a diverse voice to the legislature.
In Penticton, it’s a 4-way race.
Boot is running against Liberal incumbent Dan Ashton, retired pharmacist Ted Shumaker of the BC Green Party and software company owner Keith MacIntyre of the Libertarian party.
“I don’t know that I can unseat Dan Ashton, but I do know that I am very pleased, honoured to be part of the BC NDP team,” she said, “and I think that in the three-and-a-half years that they have been in power with the assistance of the Greens, they have come up with some excellent policies and making it more affordable for all British Columbians.”
The riding was formed in 1991 from the old Similkameen electoral district and includes the communities of Peachland, Summerland and Chute Lake.
Voters in the Penticton city centre have tended to lean towards the NDP, while the suburbs and outlying communities have voted BC Liberal.
The South Okanagan riding is considered a safe BC Liberal seat. Ashton defeated his NDP opponent in 2017 with a margin of victory of 24 per cent.
Fifty-six of B.C.’s 87 races in 2017 were closer than Penticton, while 28 of the 43 seats the BC Liberals won were tighter contests.
The BC Liberals have held a version of the Penticton riding since 1996.
Ashton is a former two-term mayor of Penticton and served as a parliamentary secretary in Christy Clark’s government.
The Penticton resident, who is seeking a third term in office, declined to campaign on-camera, and said his strategy is to go remote.
“We made a collective decision to say no office, we didn’t want a campaign office,” Ashton said.
Despite recent polls that suggest the NDP is on track to win a majority government, the long-time politician said there are benefits for constituents to have an MLA in opposition.
“They benefit by having someone who cares about the community, who grew up in the community, that has represented the community for years,” Ashton said.
There are two political newcomers entering the fray.
Shumaker said he is running for the BC Greens because he is against the snap election.
“I didn’t think this election call was right and I don’t think it’s in the spirit of democracy,” he said.
At this week’s all-candidates forum, the retiree said he wants to give voters an alternative choice at the ballot box.
“My lack of experience in politics is my strength. I can listen, I can learn and the only people who tell me what I’m going to do are my voters,” Shumaker said.
MacIntyre said he is disillusioned with the state of Canadian politics and can be an independent voice at the table.
“The Libertarian party is not on a wing, it’s less authority, more freedom, lower taxes, smaller government. For me, it just resonated,” he told Global News.
On the issues, Ashton said he is running on his record: securing funding for the Penticton hospital expansion and more supportive housing projects.
His current priority is to re-start the economy.
“The biggest issue right now is trying to get through this pandemic and ensuring that people get back to work,” he said.
Boot said healthcare, housing affordability and child care are the biggest issues facing the riding.
“Childcare is another thing that is critical is enabling people to get back to work,” she said.
MacIntyre said he’d advocate for regional COVID-19 restrictions and more personal freedoms amid the pandemic.
“I’m not saying that we should go have major concerts and start eating finger food and coughing on each other again,” he said, “but we need to look at things a little more strategically and look at the harm that we are doing with lost jobs, mental health issues, seniors care.”
Voters head to the polls on Oct. 24.
Find full B.C. 2020 provincial election coverage here.