Stetski preparing for new job in Ottawa

Newly elected Member of Parliament for Kootenay-Columbia looks ahead

  • Oct. 26, 2015 5:00 p.m.
Wayne Stetski with Voter Contact Organizer Laura Branswell at the Kootenay-Columbia NDP election night gathering

Wayne Stetski with Voter Contact Organizer Laura Branswell at the Kootenay-Columbia NDP election night gathering

Trevor Crawley

By 11 p.m. on Election night, Kootenay-Columbia was still too close to call.

At Wayne Stetski’s campaign party at the Manual Training School, a large projection screen showed a spreadsheet that was being updated in real-time as the vote count trickled in from polls across the riding.

While larger media consortiums such as the CBC and Global were calling the race in favour of incumbent Conservative candidate David Wilks, there were still polls that had yet to report in.

By midnight, the campaign volunteers and supporters began to call it a day, as Stetski announced he was ahead by roughly 20 votes.

Just under an hour later, as the last polls reported, Stetski received a phone call from a party agent with the official news that he had won the riding by 285 votes.

“A lot of supporters went to bed very sad, but then woke up very happy on Tuesday morning,” Stetski said.

“A lot of people said it was an exciting evening for them and that’s good. It’s good for people to get excited about politics.

Glass half full or half empty?

After the dust settled, Stetski — who formerly served as mayor of Cranbrook for one term — was one of two new MP-elects for the NDP party in B.C., winning by a difference of 285 over Wilks.

Residents of Kootenay-Columbia cast 63,203 ballots, which is good for 73 per cent of the vote in the riding — the ninth-highest turnout in the province.

Federally, the NDP only won 44 ridings, as the Orange Wave that swept through Quebec in 2011 receded dramatically.

In La Belle Province, the NDP lost 43 seats and the Conservatives lost seven. The Liberals hit a home run, biting into the NDP’s support and picking up 37 seats, with the Bloc Quebecois adding six ridings.

The new NDP caucus met by tele-conference on Friday as the party regroups from the election and plots a course for action moving forward. The Conservative Party, with 99 seats, will serve as the Official Opposition, but that doesn’t mean the NDP won’t be holding the Liberal majority government to account, Stetski said.

“The intention is to still be a very strong voice in Parliament,” he said. “We do intend to hold the Liberals’ feet to the fire; they made a lot of promises that they now have to deliver on and we’re going to help make sure they deliver on them.”

However, despite losing Official Opposition status, Stetski is trying to stay positive about the fortunes of the NDP, given that the Liberals went from 34 seats to 184.

“I’ve always gone through life with a glass-half full [attitude], so I appreciate the fact that with 44 seats, that’s the second highest the NDP have had ever,” he said.

“Certainly, it’s down from where we where in 2011, but it is the second largest number of seats.”

Feelin’ blue

The riding of Kootenay-Columbia — which has undergone a few boundary modifications over the years—has been represented by a Conservative candidate since 1993.

Jim Abbott, as a member of the now-defunct Reform Party, was elected in 1993 when the riding was known as Kootenay East. Abbott won re-election as the Reform Party candidate in 1997 when the riding was redrawn into Kootenay-Columbia.

The Reform Party morphed into the Canadian Alliance in 2000 and Abbott was again re-elected as MP in 2000. Three years later, the Conservative Party was born  when the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party merged under the leadership of Stephen Harper, and Abbott held onto his seat as a member of the new Conservative Party in the 2004 election.

The Conservatives booted out the Liberals and Prime Minister Paul Martin in the 2006 election, as Harper headed up a minority government with Abbott in the Conservative ranks. Abbott was re-elected for his last term with the Conservatives in 2008 before retiring from politics.

David Wilks, who served two terms as mayor of Sparwood after a career with the RCMP for over 20 years, captured the Conservative nomination and was elected to the House of Commons 2011.

The map shifts

The 2015 election had some ramifications for Kootenay-Columbia, as the boundaries were modified to include more communities in the West Kootenay such as Nelson, Kaslo and Salmo.

Previously, those communities were within the riding boundary of British Columbia Southern Interior, which was represented by Alex Atamanenko and the NDP for the last nine years.

British Columbia Southern Interior was dissolved for the 2015 election and split up between three different adjacent ridings, including Kootenay Columbia.

That West Kootenay NDP support was key to Stetski’s victory.

“We certainly knew in Nelson that we had a very strong base, and I credit that to Member of Parliament Adam Atamanenko, whose riding was split three ways to create these new ridings,” he said.

“When I knocked on doors in Nelson, Kaslo, Salmo, Alex was really well thought of over there, as is Michelle Mungall, the NDP MLA. So in that sense, a lot of the groundwork had already been established with people who really do believe in the NDP over in that part.”

The validation of the vote, which will be available within the next few days, will give a breakdown in percentages of how communities and polling stations voted across the riding.

The future

As far as the immediate future goes, Stetski and the NDP will meet as a caucus in Ottawa to establish a shadow cabinet when Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau unveils his team on Nov. 4.

Depending on the opportunity, Stetski is hoping to serve in some capacity on the shadow cabinet, either as an opposition critic or an assistant critic in portfolios associated with the environment, First Nations or national parks.

It will be up to the Liberals to call the House into session, where there are a few issues that Stetski is hoping to address such as amending the controversial anti-terrorism legislation of Bill-C1, working on electoral reform with a proportional representation vote system and marijuana policy.

As a member of the opposition, Stetski will also have to advocate for federal funding into the riding.

“I really like to think that funding comes to projects that are well-designed, well-laid out, and much-needed. The way the system works is that government will say they have ‘X’ amount of dollars for a particular program or initiatives…and they set the criteria,” Stetski said.

“Groups, municipalities or whoever is looking for funding, fills out the application, sends it in, and at that point, one of the roles of a Member of Parliament is to try to influence the outcome.

“So I guess we’ll see how much politics plays into the decision-making.”

Bringing it back home

Much of the next few days and weeks will be learning the ropes and navigating the administrative challenges facing a newly-elected representative. Stetski will have an office in Ottawa and constituency offices in Cranbrook and Nelson.

Now that the election is over, so is the politicking.

“My job is to treat every individual in Kootenay-Columbia the same, moving forward. I’ve done that my entire life,” he said. “I was a public servant and always insisted on treating everybody the same, and that’s my approach as Member of Parliament as well.

“To me, it doesn’t matter if you voted Conservative, Liberal or Green —my job is to make sure everybody is treated well and gets the kind of service they’d expect from their Member of Parliament.”

He praised fellow Kootenay-Columbia candidates Bill Green (Green Party), Don Johnston (Liberal Party) and David Wilks (Conservative Party) for running in the election.

“At the end of all the community debates, I had people coming up to me saying we are really lucky to have four good candidates in this election, and I absolutely agree with that,” Stetski said. “It was a great campaign, it was always interesting.”

With the NDP in opposition as a smaller caucus, Stetski said the focus is still on holding the Liberal majority to account while pushing NDP priorities such as a national childcare program, small business tax cuts and income assistance for seniors.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to work together.

“I want Parliament to be a place where good ideas are valued above all else. If it’s a good idea and it’ll benefit Canada, that should be our focus, so I really hope that I can be part of a far less partisan Parliament than what we saw in the last four years, which certainly wasn’t a positive Parliament,” Stetski said.

“I’m going to Ottawa with that in mind and I hope in four years from now that I’ve stuck with that.”