Kootenay-Columbia is a massive riding, which spans three regional districts and several major communities.
Candidates in Kootenay-Columbia have to battle the added challenge of being active and present across the riding, so that voters can get a sense of who they are and what they believe in. This challenge extends to communicating with the various community newspapers in every corner of the riding, since the papers are often the candidates’ best means of connecting with their constituents.
At the Invermere Valley Echo, like all other community papers, we maintain a relationship with the four candidates representing the four federal parties and the various members of their campaign teams. We rely on them to tell us when they will be in the area and what they will be doing. We also rely on them to provide comments for our stories, to maintain an equal balance of opinions.
So far, during the unofficial election period, the four candidates have each been impressively reliable and helpful, often calling the office the same day that a request for an interview is sent.
Typically, Green Party candidate Bill Green and NDP candidate Wayne Stetski are the quickest to get back, though Liberal candidate Don Johnston is normally close behind.
Often, incumbent Conservative candidate David Wilks takes an extra day or two to reply, which we attribute to the fact that Wilks is still working full-time as an MP, which obviously takes up a great deal of his free time.
Outside of traditional interviews, written press releases are an efficient means for a candidate to share their thoughts on an issue with local media. Since February, Stetski has sent seven, Green has sent five, Johnston has sent four and Wilks has sent 11 (none of Wilks’ have been related to his campaign, instead focusing on his work as an MP by way of funding announcements and Conservative government initiatives).
Interviews and press releases aside, there is great diversity among the candidates in terms of who visits the Columbia Valley the most and, most notably, who tells us about it.
Stetski has held four public events in Invermere about which the valley papers have been informed.
Johnston has not held any public events in the area that our local media is aware off, but he did take the time to come to our office and introduce himself when he travelled to Invermere to hold a private meeting with a few locals. At the very least, this gesture helped establish a working relationship between the paper and the candidate.
Green has not held any public events in the valley to the best of our knowledge.
Wilks, who has relentlessly been on the road with funding announcements and public appearances (for example, he was recently in Invermere for the Cenotaph re-commemoration) has said he will not start officially campaigning until the writ is dropped, which could happen very soon.
One thing that gives Stetski a leg up in terms of being present in the area and in local media is that he has a campaign manager solely for the Columbia Valley. This is an unparalleled effort, which has diverted his attention frequently to this corner of the riding.
All of this is worth mentioning because papers can only report on what their reporters know about. By extension, the public will only learn about what their community papers have been told. It is up to our candidates to continue to maintain strong communication with the newspapers in their riding.