The B.C. Liberals kept their grip on Kootenay East, as incoming MLA-designate Tom Shypitka won the riding by nearly a double margin over Randal Macnair and the BC NDP.
Shypitka — a Cranbrook city councillor — garnered 9,114 ballots for the Liberals, while Macnair had 4,779 cast for the NDP. Yvonne Prest captured 1,814 ballots for the Greens, while Keith Komar tallied 385 votes for the BC Libertarians.
As of midnight on Tuesday, 75 out of 75 ballot boxes across the Kootenay East riding had reported into Elections BC.
Shypitka addressed a partisan crowd at the Heritage Inn following the election, as throngs of supporters and family packed the ballroom to celebrate the win.
“I’m overwhelmed, excited, exuberant, nervously happy,” Shypitka said. “I don’t know. I’ve never really felt this way before.”
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Shypitka said he wasn’t expecting the race to be called so soon from major media networks who projected the win.
“It was a shock, to tell you the truth,” he said. “When they called the race an hour in, I didn’t believe them. I thought there’s no way, we haven’t even seen Fernie yet, but we had a really strong showing in Cranbrook and Sparwood.”
Shypitka plans on getting right to work by meeting with as many people as he can across the riding, regardless of political affiliation, to gauge priorities.
However, he does have a few issues of his own that he wants to focus on.
“First and foremost, keeping industry alive here, coal first and foremost, bt also bridging those new areas, those new sctors” Shypitka said, “such as technology. It’s a growing one and I want to bring a pod or an incubator to Cranbrook to build on technology…
“Wildlife and land access issues — that’s a huge deal becasue that’s why we live here. We live for our recreation, we live here for our wildlife, we live here to access certain lakes, so getting a real firm grasp on that is important.
“Also education and health care. We’ve got an aging population, we’re getting older, there’s going to be a heavy strain on our health care system and I want to make sure those people who paved the way for us, the seniors, get the health care they deserve.”
Shypitka also paid tribute to outgoing MLA Bill Bennett, who held the riding for 17 years, winning four electoral terms.
“Without Bill, I don’t know if I really would have ran,” Shypitka said. “He is such a huge resource that it’s invaluable. So with Bill’s help during this campaign and his help after, he’s going to take off into the sunset, but he’ll always be there because that’s the type of person Bill is; he’s never going to go away completely, he’ll always be there for advice.”
Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt, who was elected in 2014 with a new slate of councillors, including Shypitka, says the region will benefit from having a locally elected MLA.
“I’m very happy for Tom, I think he’s going to do a great job for the citizens of the Kootenay East riding,” Pratt said. “I’ve spent a couple years with him on council and I know where his passion is and where is real beliefs lay and he’s going to do a real great job for us.”
At the council table, Pratt said Shypitka always did his homework and was well prepared for whatever issue came to the chamber.
North of Cranbrook, Doug Clovechok and the BC Liberals won the Columbia River – Revelstoke riding, wresting it from the NDP who have held it under Norm Macdonald for the last 12 years.
“I interpret the wins in Kootenay East and in Columbia River – Revelstoke to the fact that people here see, in general, that our government has done a good job,” Bennett said. “They think that we’re good managers of the economy, we do lead the country in economic growth and job creation, we’re the only place in the country — and one of the few places in the world — where we actually spend less than what we bring in and I think people here are thoughtful about that sort of thing.”
While the election has Christy Clark and the Liberals in a minority government, there are still recounts being made in close ridings and absentee ballots have yet to be counted. A final tally of all valid votes will be declared on May 24.
Stay tuned to www.cranbrooktownsman.com for election follow-up coverage.