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Liberal Ben Stewart wins Kelowna West by-election

Liberal Ben Stewart easily won a byelection Wednesday to replace former B.C. premier Christy Clark in the legislature.

He captured the riding of Kelowna West with 7,692 votes, or just under 57 per cent of the ballots cast.

New Democrat Shelley Cook was second with 3,197 votes, or 23 per cent, and BC Green party candidate Robert Stupka was third with 1,727 votes, or a shade over 12.5 per cent.

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Stewart's victory means the Liberals now have 42 seats, one more than the governing New Democrats.

Kelowna West became vacant when Clark resigned both as leader of the B.C. Liberal party and as a member of the legislative assembly last summer following her party's fall from power.

Stewart, the founder of Quails Gate Estate Winery, won the riding in 2013, but bowed out to allow Clark to run after she had lost the Vancouver-Point Grey riding.

He said returning to politics "wasn't on the radar screen" but changed his mind after checking with supporters.

"I think the consensus was that it would be good for me to get back . . . and complete the work that wasn't completed in the last period of time," he said.

Premier John Horgan issued a statement, saying he knows Stewart "will represent the people of Kelowna West with integrity and compassion."

Horgan also congratulated Cook for running what he called a stellar campaign.

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"Given Kelowna West is historically a BC Liberal seat, we knew we were facing an uphill battle," he said.

The Liberals were in power for 16 years, but the May election resulted in no party having a clear majority. Clark's Liberals, with 42 seats to the NDP's 41, tried to form government, but the party was defeated in a non-confidence vote.

The New Democrats struck an agreement with the Green party, where its three members would support the NDP's legislative agenda on supply and budget issues.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Andrew Wilkinson was elected by the party earlier this month to replace Clark and lead the opposition.

The Kelowna West riding is in the heart of B.C.'s wine region, a sector caught up in the dispute between B.C. and Alberta's two NDP governments over the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Alberta announced it would boycott all B.C. wines after Premier John Horgan's government announced it would restrict expanded bitumen shipments until safety and environmental concerns are resolved.

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"I find it ironic that the NDP is all of a sudden now on an island because of what they've done," said Stewart.

"They've basically created a trade war with Alberta which was certainly not necessary. I think it's going to be a very bumpy ride for the NDP in the next few months on that. I think they've misread the electorate on it."

The byelection result means the standings in the legislature are : 42 Liberals, 41 New Democrats, three Greens, one Independent and one vacant seat.

Mark Thompson of the B.C. Conservative Party received 898 votes in the byelection and Libertarian Kyle Geronazzo took 110.

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