Rumours that controversial Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett has opted to stay in provincial politics have left Creston’s Wesly Graham optimistic that he could seize the Conservative Party nomination for the federal riding of Kootenay-Columbia.
Bennett, a former Liberal cabinet minister in the Gordon Campbell government, was removed from the party caucus after saying publicly that Campbell had to give up his party’s leadership if it was to have a chance at winning the next election. Several years earlier he was removed from his cabinet position briefly after sending an inflammatory email to an environmentalist.
“I’ve been selling a lot of party memberships and meeting lots of people,” Graham said. “It’s beginning to look like the nomination will be held in March and we could have a federal election as soon as April.”
Graham faces competition from three other declared candidates vying for the coveted nomination to succeed retiring Conservative member of Parliament Jim Abbott. With Abbott’s large margin of victory in several elections, Kootenay-Columbia is generally considered a reasonably safe seat for the federal Conservatives.
“I’ll be touring the riding and going at it hard for the next six weeks,” Graham said. “I’m really hoping for solid support from Creston and from Cranbrook, where I was born and raised.”
The nominee will be selected in a vote by party members, so candidates work to sell memberships to their supporters.
“Memberships have been selling well,” Graham said. “And I’ve been really getting out there and listening to the people.”
Sparwood Mayor David Wilks, Radium businessman Dale Shudra and Cranbrook lawyer John Zimmer have all expressed intention to seek the nomination.
Graham said it looks like the nomination will allow members to cast ballots in several communities around the huge constituency, making it unnecessary to travel long distances to get to a convention.
“We need to be ready for an election,” he said. “I’m hearing that people are tired of the ‘old boys’ club’ and they want to see a government that really works for the people.”
Now in his second term as a Creston town councillor, Graham has been active at the regional and provincial levels of government organizations.
“Public service is a passion I have,” he said. “People see that and they know I’ll work hard for the Kootenays.”