Long-time Lake Country resident Mike Nuyens will carry the NDP banner in Kelowna-Lake Country in the upcoming provincial election.
Nuyens, a machine operator for a road maintenance company and elected official with the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, won the party’s nomination Tuesday night, defeating UBC Okanagan student Tom Macauley.
Nuyens will challenge incumbent Liberal MLA and B.C Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick in the May 14 election.
“I’m excited to bring positive change to the people of British Columbia, especially in my community,” said Nuyens following his nomination victory. “Together with (party leader) Adrian (Dix) and the B.C. NDP, we are taking practical steps to bring change for the better to Kelowna-Lake Country.”
Nuyens, 52, has lived his entire life in Lake Country and feels his connection in the community will help in the election race. He said he decided to run because he feels the public is looking for a change in the riding.
“Working families are looking at the problem of how are they going to provide for their families and as a result are looking at policies of the government,” he said.
Nuyens has started, owned and operated two excavation and gravel businesses in the Okanagan in the past, and has been involved in the union movement in several capacities. He is married and has two sons.
Dix, who was in Kelowna on Wednesday and showed off five of the six Okanagan candidates who will run for the NDP, said he was happy to see a candidate named in Kelowna-Lake Country.
Nuyens is the last NDP candidate to be named here. Carole Gordon was nominated a year ago in Westside-Kelowna and Dayleen Van Ryswyk has been acclaimed the NDP’s Kelonwa-Mission candidate.
“I am really looking forward to working with all these candidates,” said Dix during his stop in Kelowna, where he reiterated his belief that the NDP have a good chance of winning seats in the Okanagan.
Currently, all six Okanagan seats are held by MLAs originally voted in as Liberals. In Vernon and Penticton, the Liberal incumbents are not running again and in the Boundary-Similkameen riding John Slater, who won the riding for the Liberals in 2009, quit the party after it refused to back him for re-election. He has since said he will not run in May.
On Tuesday, in his acceptance speech Nuyens, who grew up on an orchard and whose family is in the agriculture business, immediately took direct aim at Letnick, saying support for farmers and orchardists will be a key theme in his campaign.
“We need to work with our farming industry. We need to do more than just expand the tree fruit replant program,” said Nuyens.
“What’s a replant program, Mr. Letnick, if the trees are not available to do a proper replant? We need to look at subsidizing our farmers so that they can compete against the influx and flooding of our markets from other countries.”
He also questioned Letnick’s commitment to agriculture, saying the incumbent Liberal MLA spends more time talking about health care than the needs of farmers and orchardists.
In recent months, Letnick has held a series of public meetings about health care related issues. Prior to being named agriculture minister last year, Letnick headed a government committee charged with trying to figure out ways to improve the B.C. health care system.
But Nuyens also talked about health care in his acceptance speech, saying B.C. needs a new Pharmacare plan that goes beyond what he called the “obvious benefits of lower drug costs through group purchasing and generic drugs” to one that ensures seniors get the right kind of care at the right time—from home care and home support, to independent living, assisted living, residential care and finally hospice and palliative care.
Another theme for the newly minted NDP candidate will be support for small business. Nuyens called for more help for established businesses in the areas of skilled workers and technology implementation.
With the riding being home to UBC Okanagan, Nuyens also touched on the need for more support for students, saying improvements in post-secondary education funding are needed.
“Since the Liberals took power in 2001, tuition fees have more than doubled,” he said.
“Non-repayable grants for students have been eliminated and students are graduating on average $27,000 in debt.”
That also rang a chord for Westside-Kelowna NDP candidate Carole Gordon, who said the issue of students getting to and from UBCO from Westside is one she hears often on the doorstep from residents.
She said she believes the carbon tax should be used for “its intended purpose” and help fund green initiatives such as transit in this area.