South Okanagan-West Kootenay is a large geographical riding which Penticton is only a small part of.

In the last election, the Conservatives won 10 of 12 seats that include three upper Fraser Valley ridings representing the communities of Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack.

By Gordon Hoekstra

The Vancouver Sun

Penticton resident Lori Goldman spent nearly a month locked up in her home this summer to avoid smoke from nearby wildfires.

A long-time climate activist, Goldman says the record-breaking heat this summer and terrible wildfire season has underscored the need to tackle climate change now.

Where federal parties stand on key election issues | Vancouver Sun

It is why she says will be voting NDP in this federal election and why she believes that climate change will be a key campaign issue in South Okanagan-West Kootenay, where thousands of people had to evacuate or were on standby into September because of wildfires.

“This cannot continue,” said Goldman. “We have to act. … There’s no more time to discuss things.”

This riding is an anomaly, a spot of orange in a sea of blue Conservative ridings outside of Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

In this election, the Conservatives would love to increase their seat count, which already stands at 10 of 12 seats that include three upper Fraser Valley ridings representing the communities of Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack.

But in ridings such as South Okanagan-West Kootenay, where the NDP won a narrow victory in 2019, climate change could complicate the picture for the Conservatives.

University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford says in rural areas, conservative parties have capitalized on a disaffection with more progressive urban social views and the importance of the economy, where communities rely on resource industries such as agriculture, forestry, mining, and oil and gas.

“Those are sectors of the economy that are now being targeted by progressive parties for climate change reasons, and the Conservative party is the one that continues to defend them,” said Telford.

South Okanagan-West Kootenay was one of two ridings won by the NDP outside of Metro and the Island.

Tourism is big throughout the riding, but also agriculture, forestry and mining.

In the 2019 election in South Okanagnan-West Kootenay, NDP incumbent Richard Cannings narrowly edged Conservative Helena Konanz, who is running again, by less than 800 votes. The other candidates this election are: Ken Robertson (Liberal), Tara Howse (Green), and Sean Taylor (People’s Party).

It is one of only a few ridings that could be in play outside of Metro Vancouver.

Another possibility is Kootenay-Columbia, where incumbent Rob Morrison retook the riding for the Conservatives from the NDP’s Wayne Stetski in 2019.

The Liberals have rarely made breakthroughs in the Interior, picking up a seat in Kelowna-Lake Country in 2015 and the former Skeena riding in 1974.

Telford said it is possible that voters unhappy with Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s more progressive policies might turn to the more-right-wing People’s Party, but he noted the margins of victory have generally been so large outside of Metro Vancouver for the Conservatives they are not likely to lose seats.

On climate change, Konanz says communities will have to adjust to the reality of more frequent wildfires with practical solutions.

For the first time, the Conservatives have introduced a price on carbon in their platform, although they remain committed to the oil and natural gas industry and pipelines.

Konanz said key concerns in the riding include housing supply and affordability, housing rental shortages, homelessness, drug overdoses, crime and small-business worker shortages.

“The top thing is that we need to have all levels of government work together to address these local issues that are critical,” said Konanz, a former Penticton city councillor.

There is a lack of all kinds of housing, including for workers and the homeless, noted Konanz.

The Conservatives have a plan that promises to help build a million homes in the country over the next three years, including by encouraging foreign investment in affordable, purpose-built rental housing.

For Cannings, climate change is the key issue in this election.

The NDP’s carbon emission reduction targets are higher than the Conservatives and Liberals, promising at least a 50-per-cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. The NDP would end fossil fuel subsidies and stop federal support for pipelines.

That differs from the Conservatives, for example, which supports restarting the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, cancelled by the Liberals in 2016.

“The fires have really made people think seriously, some of them for the first time, I think, about climate change and what we need to be doing,” said Cannings, a biologist.

It’s not only what needs to be done to stop emitting greenhouse gases, but how to adapt, including protecting communities from fires and floods, said Cannings, whose rural home was just kilometres away from a wildfire this summer.

It is why, he said, the NDP has pledged $3 billion over four years to help municipalities respond to disasters and support communities in building climate-resilient infrastructure.

Other key issues in the riding include First Nations reconciliation, following the discovery of unmarked graves at a residential school in Kamloops, and also housing, job creation and restarting bus service between rural communities, said Cannings.


The original story from The Vancouver Sun: