B.C. Liberals pick former MLA Ben Stewart for Kelowna West byelection

Stewart served one term as MLA for the riding when he stepped down in 2013 to make way for Christy Clark, who lost her seat in Vancouver-Point Grey to the NDP's David Eby.

Stewart garnered controversy when he gained trade appointment after stepping down for Christy Clark

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark and MLA Ben Stewart celebrate Clark's win in a 2013 byelection in Kelowna, B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Stanford)

It's official: Former MLA Ben Stewart will be the B.C. Liberal candidate for the upcoming byelection in the Kelowna West riding. 

The position became available when former premier Christy Clark resigned after the last election, which led to a government now led by an NDP-Green partnership.

Stewart said he was surprised by the election results and spoke to friends, family and former constituents after Clark stepped down. 

"They thought that it would be important to not only have strong representation but somebody that could help through the leadership process," Stewart said. 

Stewart, founder of Quails' Gate Estate Winery, had served one term as MLA when he stepped down in 2013 to make way for Clark, who had lost her seat in Vancouver-Point Grey to the NDP's David Eby.  

Controversial appointment

Stewart was then appointed as the province's Trade and Investment Commissioner to Asia, an assignment that came with a $150,000 per year salary. Critics at the time called it a patronage appointment. 

He left that position at the end of December. 

"I loved the job. I loved doing the work to help introduce British Columbia companies to connections over in Asia and making deals happen, but at the end of the day, after 3½ years, it was a long time to be away from home," he said.

Christy Clark ran against NDP candidate Shelley Cook in the last election. 

Cook said she is interested in running again but is still working through the nomination process with the party.  A NDP spokesman said the party hasn't issued a call for nominations yet. 

The Liberals have welcomed strong support in the riding in the last few elections. This past May, Clark secured 62 per cent of the vote, whereas Cook got 30 per cent. 

But Stewart said that doesn't mean he will take the upcoming byelection for granted. 

"You have to make sure, as we saw in the provincial election, that every vote counts," he said.