Chilliwack’s political landscape underwent a seismic shift with the resignations of BC Liberal MLAs John Les and Barry Penner.
Penner’s seat in Chilliwack-Hope, a BC Liberal stronghold since his first election in 1996, was promptly snagged in an April byelection by NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony.
Les decided to keep his seat in the Chilliwack riding until the next provincial election on May 14, 2013
John Martin, the BC Conservative Party’s candidate in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection, will run in Les’s place in the Chilliwack riding after switching his political affiliations to join the BC Liberal Party.
Laurie Throness, the BC Liberal candidate in the byelection, will run against O’Mahony a second time and try to reclaim the Chilliwack-Hope riding for the BC Liberals.
Penner, a former Chilliwack lawyer and park ranger, was B.C.’s Attorney General in August, 2011, when he announced his decision not to run for re-election a fifth time.
The party’s youngest MLA when first elected, Penner rose to become one of B.C.’s longest-serving environment ministers, and held the Aboriginal relations and reconciliation portfolio as well.
In November, Penner announced he was resigning his seat and leaving politics to join the prestigious law firm of Davis LLP in Vancouver and spend more time with his wife Daris and newborn daughter Fintry.
“It’s been an incredible journey for someone who grew up in the eastern Fraser Valley,” he said.
Les announced his decision not to run for re-election in August, 2012.
Other BC Liberal MLAs were announcing they would not run for re-election as opinion polls suggested the NDP might win the next election and form government.
But Les, a political veteran after 30 years as Chilliwack mayor and as MLA, said he was confident the BC Liberals could win back the Chilliwack-Hope riding, and hold onto the Chilliwack riding he had represented since 2001.
“We will send a solid, free-enterprise contingent from Chilliwack back to Victoria after the next election,” he said.
Like Penner, Les’s political star was rising in Victoria as he served first as the province’s minister of small business and then as solicitor general.
But in 2008 when his name was came up in a police investigation of real estate transactions in Chilliwack when he was the city’s mayor, Les voluntarily stepped down as solicitor general.
Les was cleared of any criminal charges, but with his reputation under a cloud for three years as the investigation dragged on, his political career seemed to stall.
But Les told reporters in August that his decision to leave politics was based on several factors, one of them being “a certain weariness” after 30 years living in the “fishbowl” of politics, and the cost of that on his wife Mattie and their growing brood of children and grandchildren.
“They put up with a lot in 30 years,” Les said. “Now we can live like a normal family, without the ‘Old Man’ in the fish bowl.”