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Monday, January 23, 2006

Southern British Columbia Election Day Report

Its a sunny spring like morning here in the riding of Southern British Columbia. The snow of the past few days drips from the trees, and the brilliant morning sunshine makes it difficult to see my computer screen.
We’ve had a fun election run-up in this riding. Our long-time MP, Jim Gouk, Conservative, has retired, throwing the door wide open. Then his successor, Derek Zeisman, or something like that, got himself in big trouble. First he crashed his car, then it was revealed he’d failed to notify his party that he was facing smuggling charges. That latest revelation, accentuated by Stephen Harper’s announcement that the candidate will not be able to sit as a Conservative if he wins, has basically sunk the Tory ship in this riding, or at least it appears that way.
The major contender here is the NDP’s Alex Atamanenko, who was nearly elected last time, loosing by a slim margin. That margin went to the Greens, who have run a relatively strong campaign with their new candidate, Scott Leyland.
Bill Prolifi is the Liberal candidate. He’s run a clean campaign but it is unlikely he’ll be successful in a riding where the Liberals have not won in many years, if ever. Some folks say the Conservative nightmare may be Prolifi’s dreamboat, but its unclear if its a big enough boat to weather the storm.
Others believe the Conservative fiasco will do wonders for the Green vote, and dissatisfied Tories are likely to vote Green in protest, before they’ll support the Martin Liberals or the “red” NDP.
I’ve not been down to the polls yet this morning, but I can report that turnout to the advance polls was heavy. In this particular polling district, Kaslo, about 20 per cent of the eligible voters turned out. In an area that has recorded up to 80 per cent voter turnout in past elections, this one is shaping up to be a record breaker.
Historically, the riding, which stretches from Princeton in the west to Kootenay Lake in the east, has shifted between the NDP and the Tories. It is a pattern that persists not only federally, but provincially and municipally as well. Elections are most often hotly contested and the winners do so by the narrowest of margins.
Much of the riding is rural. The largest city in the riding has a population of less than 30,000. Agriculture and forestry are the major industries, followed closely by tourism. The western half of the riding encompasses the southern end of the Okanagan Valley, which has a strong Indo-Canadian population and is famous for its right wingers. Oliver, one of the medium sized towns in the region, is noted for its white supremacists.
On the western-most tip of the riding is the town of Princeton, a predominately blue collar hamlet, with a big mine and a fair bit of logging.
The central portion of the riding stretches along Highway 3 through a number of towns, Midway, Greenwood, Grand Forks, all of which have seen better days. They are towns built during the silver mining heyday of the last century. Today they are retirement communities with no major industry, except perhaps Grand Forks, which has a strong agri-community and is known as the Hemp capital of BC, not the smokable hemp, these guys grow for the textile industry.
The western portion of the riding is perhaps the most populated outside of the southern Okanagan. It too is made up predominately of blue collar workers, especially in places like Castlegar, and Trail where the major employer is Cominco. It also has strong arts-based communities in towns like Nelson, and the Slocan Valley. Tourism is the main industry in this part of the riding.
There is no dot com industry to speak of, no big business, very little manufacturing, and very little production agriculture. It is one of those areas where the young are forced to go elsewhere to find employment and post secondary education. It is a working class riding, which would explain the success both the Tories and NDP have had here in the past.
The major issues here are healthcare, government integrity, childcare, post secondary education, seniors, and government services. While there is a strong tourism industry, there is also a virulent antiwar contingent thus, and because of its location along the Canada-US border, Canadian-American relations are also a serious concern.
If I was a betting man I’d select the NDP to take the riding, with the Liberal coming a close second, and the Greens upstaging the incumbent Tories. That said, all bets are off. If ever there was a riding that could go Green, this one could, and I wouldn’t count out the Liberals, Prolifi has run a spotless campaign and the disaffected Tory vote has to go somewhere. It is even possible for the dismembered Tory to pull a rabbit out of the electoral hat. It could be close.
With the good weather and blue skies I would expect voter turnout to be very high. The more voters who turn out the closer this race is likely to be.
As for the run up to the actual election, there have been all-candidate debates in most of the cities, town and villages. All the candidates have participated fully, except Zeisman, who was covered by Okanagan MP Stockwell Day and Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain, until revelations of his smuggling charges were revealed. Those meetings have been lively, with the consensus that the Greens and NDP have done best by them.
Traditionally this riding sends an opposition member to parliament. In the Chretien era it voted Conservative. In the Mulroney era, NDP. That trend is likely to continue.
As for media, the choices are decent. CBC radio is probably the most predominate. A close second would go to the numerous private radio stations in the region, most of which are owned by larger media companies. Daily newspapers follow closely on the tails of the radio outlets, most of those Newspapers, until recently, were owned by Conrad Black. There is no homegrown TV station in the riding, but there are several small independent newspapers and a co-op radio station out of Nelson. Many folks get their information from the TV, CBC, CTV and Global, who have reporters working in the region but offer only limited local coverage. The internet also plays a role here, but the number of bloggers and discussion forms are limited when compared to other ridings. Word of mouth may well be the most vital of information sources.
So, that’s the lowdown, from my perspective anyway, as voting day begins.
I plan to take a trip down to the local polling station at some point this afternoon. I’ll see what I can find out down there and report later with any new info I’m able to gather. Then, this evening, when the vote tallies start to come in, I’ll plug into some of out local media and let you know how its all unfolding.
Until then, have a good day, and get out there and vote.


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