B.C. Votes 2017: Boundary-Similkameen riding profile
The riding is centred along the winding Highway 3, but political culture changes from town to town
In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Boundary-Similkameen, one of the Okanagan's seven ridings — and one where the NDP has reason to be hopeful of an upset.
1. A sprawling riding far from Vancouver, Boundary-Similkameen isn't the type of place that ordinarily attracts campaigning in the final week of an election.
The district has only gone to the NDP once in its history (1991, when it was known as Okanagan-Boundary), and the lack of any town with more than 5,500 people makes it inefficient for leaders to hold rallies in.
And yet, there was Christy Clark in Oliver and Osoyoos, seven days before the election, drumming up support for one-term MLA Linda Larson, who is seeking re-election.
2. Results in the last two elections, however, show why both Clark and Horgan have paid visits there.
The NDP lost this riding by less than 900 votes in 2009 and less than 1,400 votes in 2013 — both times around its dozen closest defeats.
To win a majority and end 16 years of Liberal rule, the NDP would need to take at least eight seats from them, which means areas like this and the neighbouring ridings of Fraser-Nicola and Penticton have been given attention by Horgan.
3. Income levels may play a role in the closeness of the riding.
"It's an incredibly diverse large riding. It has everything from forestry and mining to agriculture, cattle ranching, tourism," said Larson, who added "everything that's important to anyone in B.C. is important to the people here in Boundary-Similkameen."
However, a decade ago the average income was the lowest in B.C. outside Metro Vancouver, and the Boundary and Similkameen areas have continued to struggle relative to the rest of the province.
It's may be partly due to the lack of an urban centre or partly due to the lack of natural resource investments that have spurred growth in places like the east Kootenays and Peace region.
But it may have created a climate where older, rural voters are more likely to vote for the NDP than they have previously.
"They feel forgotten," said NDP candidate Colleen Ross of voters in the riding.
"They feel most of the decision and focus and funding has been centred around Greater Victoria and the Lower Mainland, and that rural B.C. doesn't really mean anything to them, because there aren't enough votes here. They feel they've been taken advantage of."
4. The one area of the riding that overwhelmingly supports the Liberals may not be so favourable this year.
Linked to the Okanagan and with a booming wine industry, Osoyoos and Oliver have long been difficult places for the NDP to get support.
But the proposed closure of the only high school in Osoyoos could have a political impact this election.
- Town of Osoyoos sues local school district over school closing
- New B.C. education fund announced to keep rural schools from closing
5. Where does the NDP do well?
It does best in the eastern half of riding past Osoyoos and Oliver, particularly in the town of Grand Forks, where it won all but one of the polling stations in 2013.
6. What about the Liberals?
Osoyoos: the warm-weather paradise is also a mecca for the B.C. Liberals, with the party usually getting around 60 percent of the vote — except in 2009, when it formed the bulk of the Conservative Party's support.
7. There are many issues that make the riding a wild card this election.
Aside from the school closures, there's the debate over the long-proposed national park in the South Okanagan. The boundaries of the riding have expanded to include Princeton and the surrounding west Similkameen area.
- Possible South Okanagan national park lands suggested by province
- South Okanagan national park opponents want economic opportunity on land
And there's an independent candidate, in Peter Entwistle, with a higher local profile than 90 per of independent candidates: he was the chief of staff at South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver, but resigned to protest underfunding in the health care system.
And the Green Party candidate is relatively well-known too: Vonnie Lavers, the former director of the Kelowna Community Food Bank.
All of which means Boundary-Similkameen is one of the Interior ridings likely to get a lot of attention on election night.
"We've had 9 debates, and they go for more than hour and a half. It's a tough go," said Ross.
"But it is very close."