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Tory MP candidate Hill ousts incumbent Zandee, Castlegar's Salekin remains riding president

Area Conservatives have given Rossland's Stephen Hill the nod to take a run at re-capturing the riding in the next federal election, in a 161-to-132 upset over incumbent Tory nominee Rob Zandee.

Members of the Conservative Party of Canada gathered in Grand Forks and Oliver, as well as at the Fireside Inn here in Castlegar, to choose their candidate in a bid to re-take what was one a Tory riding – Conservative/Reform MP Jim Gouk held the seat for four terms before retiring from Parliament in 2005.

Since then, NDP MP Alex Atamanenko has represented the B.C. Southern Interior riding – a status quo Hill said he's determined to change.

“We're not politically relevant because we've been on the wrong side of the glass looking in for more than 30 years,” he said (Gouk served during a Liberal regime). “My responsibility is to line this riding up with the government in Ottawa such that we get the funds necessary to build the infrastructure we need for a modern economy – bridges, airports, fibre optics, sewers ...”

The Rossland father-of-two (a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old) and business-owner ran for the nomination once before, in 2006.

“I signed up on the very last day,” he said. “I was behind the eight-ball and had no idea what I was doing. It was a learning experience.”

He said this time he won through sheer sweat equity.

“I had to break Rob's (Zandee) stranglehold on Oliver and Osoyoos,” he said. “I also had to get people from outlying communities to come in and vote for me, because I knew (fellow nominee) Meagan (Salekin) would have a strong following in Castlegar.”

“Nobody works as hard as I do – that's how I won,” he added. “I had a personal conversation with every one of the 800 Conservative (Party) members in the riding.”

Whatever he did, it appeared to work – the first ballot saw newcomer Salekin take 69 votes, with Zandee 114 and Hill 118. When the second choices on Salekin's ballots were then counted, Zandee got an extra 18, while Hill took 43, bringing the final tally to 161 to 132.

“I've been practicing for this since birth – it's in the blood,” said Hill, a financial advisor who hails from Peterborough, Ont. (“It's not my fault – I was just born there,” he said) and moved to Rossland 17 years ago. “My grandparents were Conservatives on the Prairies, and my parents were Ontario Conservatives's been a lifelong process.”

He said his job now is to take that conversation to the 80,000 people within the B.C. Southern Interior, using whatever means available, including Facebook, Twitter, and a blog.

And in so doing, he'll have the support Castlegar nominee Meagan Salekin, who said Wednesday that she has no intention of bowing out party happenings altogether.

“I'm thrilled that Stephen is doing this – he worked so hard, he deserved it,” she said. “I'll go back to being riding president, so I kind of get the best of both worlds.”

She said she's glad to see a candidate in this portion of the riding.
“This is where the fight is (during a federal election),” she said. “The western side of our riding is very Conservative. The eastern side tends to be left-leaning, so this is where we need to spend the time and energy.”

As for whether she'll throw her hat in the ring again, Salekin said it's not a commitment she would make lightly.

“I'm not sure was a huge decision to make the first time,” she said, adding she might consider it when her two children (four-and six-years-old) are older.