BC NDP candidate Roly Russell is the projected winner of the Boundary Similkameen riding pulling ahead by an approximate 11-point margin with 48 per cent of the vote following the initial vote count Saturday — while the final vote count results with mail-in ballots will come in a few weeks.
"I'm feeling pretty thrilled and pretty thankful for all the work that my team has done, especially in COVID times. It takes a village as they say and we've had that emerge from across the riding. Whether it's social media or putting up signs or being on the phone, it's all of that work that has really made this happen," Russell told the Times-Chronicle late Saturday night following a Zoom meeting with his volunteers and supporters. "I'm pretty thankful for my team here."
In a unique election with thousands of mail-in votes across the province, roughly 5,000 in the Boundary Similkameen yet to be counted for weeks to come, Russell is still feeling tentative after the riding had been called for the NDP candidate by the Canadian Press.
"It's certainly made it much more challenging — when and if we are willing to declare that we're in the lead even. I recognize that it has been called. I still feel a little bit tentative and I'll be much more comfortable when those results come in," Russell said Saturday night.
Russell, who was the director for Electoral Area D (Rural Grand Forks) in the Regional District of Kootenay-Boundary, is taking on the seat left vacant by Liberal MLA Linda Larson who announced her retirement from politics in 2019.
Russell pulled in 48 per cent of the vote with all 98 polls reporting following the initial vote count. Runner up with the BC Liberals, Petra Veintimilla, received 37 per cent of the initial vote count. She said she is interested to see the final tally after mail-in ballots are counted.
"However, I’d be surprised if the results change in the end,” Veintimilla said.
After a hard-fought race, Veintimilla said she is at peace with the results thus far.
"I’m proud of the campaign we ran, and grateful for all of the positive feedback, help and support I received along the way."
The people of the Boundary Similkameen appear to be looking for change, Veintimilla said, and she is happy to have had the opportunity to put her name forward on the ballot.
Multiple major news outlets have declared a majority victory for John Horgan and the NDP with the party projected to win, leading or elected in 55 of 87 seats. Andrew Wilkinson conceded the election Sunday, announcing he would resign as leader of the Liberal party Monday afternoon.
"I think the NDP over the last three and a half years have shown, certainly to me, and probably the province that they have the enthusiasm and the capacity to roll up their sleeves and get things done that are good for our people across the province," Russell said. "That's coming back to benefit them now. It's a nice statement and it's a clear indication that the province feels like the NDP are a good option to lead us forward through the pandemic as well as just in general so I'm pretty pleased about that."
Russell's campaign priorities included protecting the health of B.C. forests, economic resilience, supporting local agriculture, addressing climate change and supporting rural communities.
"I still feel like before I get too excited I want to wait to get a few more ballots counted, but the same thing I've been saying on the campaign trail was sincerely what I'm about," Russell said. "Getting a stronger voice for rural B.C. in Victoria is top of mind there and building a solid recovery plan, supporting environmental stewardship and small business supports and healthcare."
Russell thanked former MLA Linda Larson for her years of public service and his electoral opponents for a policy-focussed race.
"I would like to acknowledge and thank my opponents in the race. Petra and Darryl particularly both mounted a positive campaign and that was super important to me. I really appreciate that they have done that. It was good to have a campaign that was focussed on policy issues and issues they are passionate about, so that was great, so thanks to them. And thanks to Linda Larson who's been in the seat for the last seven years or so. It's a big commitment so appreciation for her as well," Russell said.
Conservative candidate Darryl Seres pulled in nearly 13 per cent of the riding's initial 16,119 votes. While the results were not the outcome Seres was hoping for, it was a notable turnout on Election Night for the Conservative Party of BC province-wide.
"I did believe that there was maybe a bit more appetite for change than there turned out to be at the end of the day," Seres said. "Then again I do feel it was a respectable showing. Obviously a lot of people put their support in me and put their support in us."
Seres was one of the top five Conservative candidates out of 19 total. A base to build on for the party in the future, he said.
"After the 2017 election we obviously had to go into a complete rebuild basically from the ground up. We don't have to do that this time around. We will just build on the moderate success that we have and it's a lot easier to start from step two or three or four than it is from zero," Seres said.
Following the election weekend, Seres objected to some media framing him as a "spoiler" candidate.
"Province-wide it was very clear there were only a small handful of seats where a vote split kept a BC Liberal from getting in. The outcome of this election would have been the same whether or not there were two, three or four seats that might have gone to the BC Liberals had there not been a Conservative candidate. It certainly would not have changed the overall outcome in any way," Seres said. "As for our own riding, Boundary Similkameen, with Roly Russell getting 48 per cent of the vote, that is, in first-past-the-post, an absolute landslide. So I don't think there's any argument whatsoever that a vote split cost the seat of Boundary Similkameen."
Votes for the Conservative, Wexit and Liberal parties cannot simply be added together, Seres said.
"It doesn't work that way in politics. You can't straight slide a vote for one person to another party. There are a lot of reasons why people vote," Seres said.
Wexit BC candidate Arlyn Greig, who parted ways with the party prior to voting day, received 316 votes, nearly 3 per cent of the initial vote count.
Half of registered voters turn out
Elections BC estimated Monday that 52.4 per cent of registered voters cast their ballots in 2020.
The preliminary estimate is based on the number of voters who voted during advanced voting, on election day, the estimated number of envelopes with absentee ballots and vote-by-mail packages.
A total of 670,324 voters voted in their electoral district during the advance voting period, and 546,877 voters voted on Election Day at their assigned voting place, according to Elections BC.
An estimated 85,000 certification envelopes containing absentee ballots will be considered for final count. These ballots were cast at absentee voting opportunities during advance voting, on Election Day, and throughout the campaign period (at voting opportunities such as voting at a district electoral office or a special voting opportunity).
As of Oct. 24, Elections BC had received approximately 525,000 mail-in ballots, though this figure does not include mail-in ballots returned by voters in person to voting places or district electoral offices before the deadline of 8 p.m. on Oct. 24. The preliminary estimate of voter turnout will likely increase when mail-in ballots dropped off in person are accounted for, according to Elections BC.
As of Sept. 26, there were 3,485,858 registered voters in B.C.
The 2017 Provincial General Election saw 61.18 per cent of registered voters turn out, and there were 1,986,374 valid votes. The number of valid votes in 2020 could be comparable, at around 1.8 million, Elections BC said. However, the number of registered voters has increased since 2017, resulting in a lower percentage of registered voters voting. In the 2017 provincial election, there were 3,246,647 registered voters in B.C.
Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle