British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Kamloops-North Thompson riding profile

A bellwether riding with a retiring MLA means this urban-rural seat will get plenty of attention.

A bellwether riding with a retiring MLA means this urban-rural seat will get plenty of attention

(Elections BC)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Up today: Kamloops-North Thompson, one of five ridings in the Cariboo — and a race guaranteed to have symbolic importance during the campaign.

1. You're going to hear the phrase "since 1903" uttered more than once here.

The 1903 B.C. election was historic for a number of reasons. It was the first to be held with political parties. The first of four straight majority victories for Richard McBride, one of the province's most important leaders.

It's also the year this riding in the southern Interior, centred around a small town of 1,500 people, was created and chose Frederick John Fulton from McBride's Conservative Party as its MLA.

2. Ever since then, Kamloops has elected someone from the party forming government.

That's 31 straight elections choosing the winning party, and in 26 of those there was only one riding for Kamloops. As a result, a mythos has developed around the city election time — but is it earned?

"It's really difficult to figure out," said Terry Kading, a political science professor at Kamloops' Thompson Rivers University. 

"All it would take is one election and you end up with a different result. And we'd have a difficult time explaining what changed."

3. Is it a microcosm for the B.C. Interior? 

One reason the Kamloops ridings have been such good indicators of provincial success is how they combine urban, suburban and rural communities, as well as mining, agricultural and public sector jobs, with no one stakeholder group dominating in population. 

"Kamloops certainly is a poster child for the Interior of the province: it's got quite a diverse economy and focuses on particularly Interior concerns and issues," said Mel Rothenburger, a former mayor and newspaper editor in the city. 

4. Of the two Kamloops ridings, North Thompson is friendlier to the NDP.

The Liberals won Kamloops-South Thompson by more than 5,500 votes, but North Thompson by just over 3,000 votes. Part of the reason is demographics, with the Thompson River tending to be a dividing line for the region.

"The North Thompson valley is a working person's kind of riding, as opposed to the south Kamloops area, which is more urban and suburban. That may play into the differences," said Rothenburger. "It's pretty strong NDP territory."

5. It's one of the few ridings where the NDP and Green Party selected their candidate early.

The NDP chose their candidate here early, selecting Barb Nederpel, president of the Kamloops and District Labour Council and vice president of the Hospital Employees Union. The Green Party has chosen Dan Hines, an Anglican priest and founder of a housing co-operative.

6. But the Liberals chose a strong candidate as well

With Health Minister Terry Lake choosing not to run again, a number of prominent Kamloops residents looked to replace him. Current mayor, Peter Milobar, eventually defeated Steven Puhallo and Michael Grenier for the party's nomination

7. ... and the competitive nomination battle could give them an extra edge.

All three potential Liberal candidates had different bases of support, which likely means the party has a good sense of who their committed voters are well before next May's election.

"By the time the nomination meeting comes along, the Liberals will be in excellent shape in terms of membership is concerned, and that should help them out," predicted Rothenburger prior to Milobar's selection.

8. Western neighbourhoods may play a key role.

In past elections, the Liberals have tended to do well in the suburbs to the north of Kamloops, along with Barriere, Clearwater and the small towns to the north, while the NDP did well in the city itself.

But last election, the neighbourhood of Brocklehurst went from narrowly supporting the NDP to overwhelmingly supporting the Liberals. 

9. Expect both Clark and Horgan to make a stop here during the campaign.

Of course, for all the talk about Kamloops-North Thompson being a bellwether, it did elect the Liberals when the NDP formed government in 1996. And emphasizing the importance of any particular riding, when there are 87 in total, is an exercise in not seeing the forest for the trees. 

Still, every election has a mini-narrative about a race in Kamloops — a day where party leaders descend on the city and reporters say the word "bellwether" more times in one day than they have in the past year. 

It may not happen this year. Or it may happen in Kamloops-South Thompson. But this year, it's likely to be happen — and likely to happen here.