Federal Kootenay-Columbia candidates, or those working for them, generally have said there were no major surprises — although there were some disappointments — with the town-by-town breakdown of voting patterns on election day during this past fall’s federal election (see story on page A1).
The patterns reveal that the NDP dominated the western part of the Kootenay-Columbia riding; the Conservatives dominated the southern part of the riding; there was a narrower gap between the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals in the northern part of the riding than elsewhere; and the Green Party got its best results in and around Kimberley.
“We absolutely expected to do well in the west,” said new NDP Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski, adding much credit for that goes to former NDP MP Alex Atamenenko, who represented the Neslon-Kaslo area before it was hived off from its old riding and joined onto the Kootenay-Columbia riding for the 2015 federal election, as well as to local provincial NDP MLAs Michelle Mugall and Norm Macdonald.
“It really made it easier. I wouldn’t say outright easy, but certainly it helps that people from that area have had a long and really positive experience with the NDP for many years, and that showed on election night,” said Stetski.
The Echo attempted to get comment from the Kootenay-Columbia Conservative Riding Association on the matter, but was unable to reach the organization prior to press deadline. Former Conservative MP (and incumbent during the election) David Wilks, however, had touched on the geographic voting patterns when he talked with The Pioneer shortly after the October 18th election, saying at the time that the incorporation of the Nelson-Kaslo area – long seen as an NDP stronghold — into the Kootenay-Columbia riding was one of the biggest factors.
“It was huge and I knew it going in. Nelson and Kaslo — nothing against them, they are great places — but they are a different demographic and vote differently (than other parts of the riding),” he said.
Both the Liberals and Greens expressed disappointment to The Echo that their parties weren’t able to pick up more votes in the western part of the riding.
“We did expect to do better in Nelson, that was our campaign headquarters, but the NDP ran a strong campaign there,” said Liberal Kootenay-Columbia communications director Brian May.
“In that Nelson-Kaslo-Salmo area, we certainly expected to do better, and we’re disappointed we didn’t,” said Green Party candidate Bill Green. “The strategic voting imperative in that part of the riding was much more heated than in other parts. There seemed to be a strong sense of ‘we’re being dragged into this Conservative riding and we’re going to band together and vote hard to get a non-Conservative candidate in’.”
The overwhelming Conservative strength in the southern part of the riding came as no shock either, with Wilks acknowledging it has long been a bastion of Conservative support, and Stetski saying “obviously we (the NDP) have a lot of work to do there.”
Stetski added that the southern Kootenay-Columbia affinity for the Conservatives is similar to the western Kootenay-Columbia affinity for the NDP, in that both trends are buttressed by a long history of popular MPs.
“Jim Abbott was really popular in that area, and with good reason. He represented the riding, first for the Reform Party and then for the Conservatives, for 17 years. A lot of people really liked him, and I certainly like him a lot as a human being, although obviously we have differing political views — so that built strength. Then (former Conservative MP) David Wilks took over the riding for another four years, so that’s a 21-year stretch that really helped build up a solid base of support,” said Stetski.
In Cranbrook, where Stetski had previously been mayor, the Conservatives reigned supreme, just as elsewhere in the southern part of Kootenay-Columbia. While that may not have been the result the NDP was hoping for in the town, it was not unexpected, according to Stetski.
“There is a strong Conservative element in Cranbrook, which can be really effective at getting the vote out,” he said.
“We didn’t win Cranbrook, but we were able to pick up a couple thousand votes in there, an increase from what we had there last election, and at the end of the day that really helped. I won the riding by just 285 votes, so the message of this election — to me — is that every vote really counts.”
That the Green Party had its best results in and around Kimberley — where the party had its campaign headquarters — was also expected, according to Green.
“I’m better known in Kimberly and the surrounding area than elsewhere, and there’s a fairly strong green movement in Kimberley, especially around topics such as local food production and energy efficiency. It’s present in other towns as well, but it’s quite strong here and it seems to translate into votes,” he said. “We also tend to do better in recreation-centred towns with big ski resorts, such as Kimberley, Golden and Revelstoke. What I think that tends to reflect is the younger demographic in those places.”
The trend of no single party dominating the northern part of the riding was anticipated by both the NDP and the Liberals.
“We expected to do reasonably well in places such as Invermere and Golden, but we also know there’s a Conservative element to the Upper Columbia Valley and Golden,” said Stetski. “It may come partly from the influence of Alberta — which is overall quite a Conservative province — on those regions. There are a lot of residents in those towns who have moved there from Alberta and when they move they bring their values with them.”
“From Revelstoke through to Kimberley, we looked and saw that in past elections there has been a pretty even 50-50 divide between the NDP and Conservatives, and we thought there’s a natural middle ground between the two there that we can fill, so we’re not too surprised that we had some of our best results there. We expected that,” said May. “What did surprise us a little bit is that there were a number of towns throughout the riding in which we managed to equal or even surpass the NDP.”
Stetski added that when campaigning or looking at the voting results, it’s important not to get too bogged in specific geographic trends.
“At the end of the day, people vote for the candidate who best reflects their views on life,” he said.
The 73 per cent of eligible voters who came to the polls in Kootenay-Columbia during the past election gave the riding one of the highest voter turnout rates in the entire country.