B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 27, 2018. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Ben Stewart rejoins B.C. Liberal caucus

Andrew Wilkinson leads bigger group than B.C. NDP

Ben Stewart has rejoined the B.C. Liberal caucus for a second term as Kelowna West MLA, bringing the official opposition to 42 seats, one more than the governing NDP.

Stewart took his oath of office Tuesday in the B.C. legislature, after cruising to victory in a by-election Feb. 14 with twice the votes of his NDP rival Shelley Cook.

Stewart said he’s relieved to be back, after the constituency was left without representation following the resignation of former premier Christy Clark. Premier John Horgan waited until January to call the by-election, as the NDP-B.C. Green minority government set about governing.

“I was surprised by how much pent-up demand there was for people looking for an MLA, and it’s been a long six or seven months since we finally got down to the business of having a by-election,” Stewart said.

“Some of the damage from last year’s flooding, a lot of it hasn’t been rectified and government hasn’t been very clear in terms of how they’re going to help repair community beaches, working with local governments and residents.”

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said the return of Stewart, who served three years as B.C.’s trade representative in China after stepping down in 2013, changes the dynamic of the legislature.

“That highlights the fact that the Green Party with its three members holds the balance of power, and as long as they continue to support the NDP, no matter how ridiculous the NDP’s policies are, the onus is on the Green Party to show why they’re doing this,” Wilkinson said. “And if it’s simply the fact of staying in power, that doesn’t reflect very well on the Green Party, because the NDP will take advantage of them as long as they can.”

Alberta’s sudden move to ban B.C. wine sales came during the by-election campaign, and Stewart said it ignited people’s interest in provincial affairs and Premier John Horgan’s opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

“I think that it spotlighted the fact that British Columbia and Alberta, although governed by the same party, really don’t see eye to eye in terms of how they move ahead on an economic opportunity that’s there,” Stewart said. “Clearly it brought a lot of attention to the fact that British Columbia had supported the federal government and the continuation of twinning that pipeline.”

Related: Stewart to replace Christy Clark in Kelowna West

Related: Final Kelowna West byelection numbers

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