A federal election is imminent this year, and for the first time the riding of Kootenay-Columbia includes the city of Nelson.
New lines were drawn in several federal electoral districts in Canada for 2015, there are a number of big changes in the Kootenay-Columbia district, as well as the neighbouring B.C. Southern Interior district.
Those changes include Nelson, Kaslo and Salmo becoming a part of Kootenay-Columbia and Penticton joining the South Okanagan-West Kootenay, as it is to be renamed (currently named B.C. Southern Interior).
Several local candidates are now in place, and offered their thoughts on the West Kootenay enhancement of Kootenay Columbia, the cultural and community diversity of the region, and how it may affect their campaigns.
Incumbent MP David Wilks (Conservative) said the B.C. Boundary commission sought to get all ridings to around a population of 180,000.
“There were really two ways that they could look at increasing the riding,” Wilks said. “One was go north through the Trans Canada Highway which would have probably brought in Sicamous and then part of Salmon Arm — that didn’t work for them. Then they looked at the southern route going Highway 3 and they chose to draw a line that included Salmo, Nelson and Kaslo and most of the Regional District of Central Kootenay, excluding Nakusp, and following it down to Edgewood.”
Wilks said he is looking forward to the changes.
“There are a lot of synergies between the East and West Kootenays that I think work well — tourism and forestry are two big ones. I think that we will be able to work well together to ensure that we get better and adequate funding for forestry and for tourism.”
Wilks said the changes do make traveling more difficult, since there are more places.
“But that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to a federal constituency riding — they’re large — and this one is a significant challenge because it has two of the highest mountain passes in all of Canada. It makes it difficult to get around, but you know what, you adapt and you overcome and do what’s best for your constituents.
Newly announced Wayne Stetski said he was already quite familiar with the riding.
“It mirrors my old boundaries when I was regional manager with the Ministry of Environment, so I understand the values and I understand the difference in values in different parts of the region and the riding,” Stetski said.
“Ultimately what I plan to do is to make sure we are listening to and hearing the very strong values that we have in the different corners of the riding and then looking to take back a holistic or complete approach to trying to cover off all the different concerns.”
Stetski added that there are cultural differences between the East and West Kootenays. “I love both of them in the end, but we will have to listen in each of those different areas and find out what immediate concerns are, particularly if there are some new ones, that I’m not aware of.
“The same way there’s a difference in cultural aspect around the riding, there is a cultural difference between urban and rural so I need to make sure that even though Cranbrook is a city of almost 20,000, really—from a Canadian perspective—we’re still rural.
“So I have to make sure the leadership in Ottawa understands those rural values and some of the decisions in the party platform reflect the rural lifestyle that we have here.”
Kimberley’s Bill Green is the candidate for the Green Party in this riding. He has been in place since December of 2014.
“I believe there is a growing dismay with the present government,” he said at the time. “People are thinking that it’s time for a change. The key is to convince them that the Green Party is the change they should make.”
Green also believes that MP David Wilks will not get away with skipping debates and forums this time around.
“The long gun registry is behind us. That’s no longer an issue. There are a broad range of issues and David Wilks will have to address them. He has to show up and speak to his government’s record.”
“I’m campaigning to win this election, and Greens across the country have shown that Greens can get elected and bring a wide range of important issues forward at all levels of government” said Green. “Most importantly, I want to give real representation to the people and communities of this riding in Parliament. We need to revive our democracy, we need a smart economy, and we need strong communities.”
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party has not yet announced a candidate. Don Johnston, president of the Kootenay Columbia Liberal Association says the hope is to have a candidate in place in the next couple of months.
“We’ve been doing a lot of outreach and our focus is on an open nomination process,” he said. “We are still in that development stage and are optimistic we will have a candidate by May.”
Johnston says that although there had been speculation that a spring election would be called, nothing he has heard from Prime Minister Harper would indicate that might happen.
“The signs all point to the fall. There has been a clear indication from the Prime Minister that it would have to be something pretty urgent to call a spring election.”
Compiled by Arne Petryshen, Trevor Crawley, Carolyn Grant and Barry Coulter