New Kootenay Columbia Riding — 'A challenge at 64,000 square kilometres'
It’s been two years since the Federal Elections Boundaries Commission decided to move Nelson into the Kootenay Columbia riding and the effects are soon to be seen.
Previously, Nelson was included in the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding alongside Trail and Castlegar. Nelsonites and other communities in this riding voted primarily NDP in the 2011 election, resulting in Alex Atamanenko representing.
Liberal candidate Don Johnston isn’t concerned about the change in riding and said he will continue to campaign as he’s always planned.
“[The Nelson region] is personally an area I’m very familiar with because it’s all within the territory of the CBT,” Johnston said.
Johnston was CEO of the Columbia Basin Trust for six years and has visited the regions communities more than once.
“From our perspective,” Johnston continued, “the only changes are the areas in the riding and we’re still going to get out and visit as many people as we can and listen to as many as we can. It’s a challenge at 64,000 square kilometres.”
The new Kootenay/Columbia riding extends towards the Alberta border and is slightly more interested in the Conservative way of governing; or at least they were in 2011.
Last election saw Nelson, Kaslo, Salmo and adjoining rural areas cast 6,634 NDP votes and 3,036 Conservative votes with the remainder going to Liberal and Green candidates.
That equated to an average of 58 per cent vote for the NDP and 30 per cent Conservative.
However in the Kootenay Columbia areas the Conservatives polled between 40- 53 per cent in the Revelstoke to Kimberley corridor and 53-75 per cent between Cranbrook, Fernie and Creston areas.
The NDP essentially tied them in the northern zone but saw a steep decline, garnering only 19-32 per cent in the southern communities; the area with the highest population and impact.
Liberals and Greens polled their highest numbers in the Revelstoke and Golden areas but fell quite low in the remaining communities.
If last election is anything to go off of the decision could be much closer than many think.
Those in the East may think the newest addition to the riding may not hold much sway in the end but the joining of Nelson and area brings with it an additional 18,000 potential voters to the existing 60,000 within the riding.
At 22 per cent of the electorate, this new area – including Nelsonites – definitely has some pulling power.
Furthermore if the voter numbers stay relatively low at 61 per cent, the Nelson region could have an even larger impact, assuming Nelson will stay voting NDP.
Regardless of the change in riding current NDP MP Alex Atamanenko will not be a candidate in this election and is sure to sway the party decision for some in the Nelson region.
With a fresh election, the two stragglers of last year – the Green and Liberals – are stepping up to the plate with some strong hitters.
With the riding being as grand as it is, Johnston believes there’s far too much diversity to think of it as an East/West split, “I think that would be very much oversimplifying the situation.”
“Fernie is every bit as diverse as Golden as that area is to Nelson and so on,” Johnston adds.
“I don’t look at it as a different riding now, I go to each community and find out what their individual issues are. Many of those concerns are the same around the region, everyone is worried about the economy and the environment.”
If Johnston can make an impact in Nelson the Liberals may see a rise in poll numbers, as the East has shown support for the party in past years.
In the 1997, 2000 and 2004 elections the Liberal party pulled between 14.8 and 17.9 per cent of the East Kootenay riding vote.
Bill Green and the Green Party have jumped right in and already established a Nelson office. There approach seems to be much of the same. Keep doing what they have been, just bring their voice to the newly added region as well.
In a recent media release the party stated, “I know that the Conservative Party is looking to out-spend all of the other parties during the official campaign period. My focus is not on how much we can spend but, instead, on how much I am able to directly connect with Kootenay-Columbia voters.”
“Here in the Kootenay-Columbia riding, our Green Party campaign has been building momentum since January. We’ve put together a very strong campaign team, established a Nelson campaign office, recruited enthusiastic volunteers, and made great progress in fundraising. We’ve been door-to-door canvassing in Fernie, Cranbrook, Salmo, Nelson, etc.”
Green said he is intent on reaching the younger voters this time around as well as addressing climate change and building a new, green economy and green jobs.
Green, of the Green Party, and Johnston, candidate for the Liberals, are up against Wayne Stetski for the NDP, incumbent Conservative MP, David Wilks and Christina Yahn of the Libertarian Party.
The Federal Election is set for October 19, 2015.